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Students Study Bioenergy in Europe

Bioenergy study abroad group in Copenhagen, Denmark
Bioenergy study abroad group in Copenhagen, Denmark
Twelve students joined Dr. Marisol Berti for a study abroad tour of six countries in Europe, June 24-July 11, 2015. The focus of the trip was to observe and experience European production and processing of major energy crops used for electricity, heat, biodiesel and bioethanol, and second generation biofuels.

August 17, 2015

Twelve students joined Plant Sciences associate professor and forages and biomass project leader Dr. Marisol Berti on a two-part study abroad trip to Europe June 24-July 11, 2015. The focus of PLSC 379/779 Bioenergy Crops: The European View was to introduce students to renewable energies and bioenergy crop production in Europe, where they learned about, observed, and experienced the production and processing of major energy crops used for electricity, heat, biodiesel and bioethanol, and second generation biofuels.

Eight students went along on the first part of the trip, June 24-July 4, which was spent in mainland Europe with stops in Italy, Austria and Germany. Four students joined the group on the second leg of the trip, July 5-11, which was spent in Scandinavia with visits in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The students received instruction in bioenergy crops and processing, visited universities, toured research and experiment facilities, and toured bioenergy and sustainable agriculture sites.

Student participants were Plant Sciences graduate students James Bjerke, Calli Feland, Leah Krabbenhoft, Jared Nelson and Shana Pederson; Crop and Weed Sciences majors Tracy Hillenbrand, Elizabeth Lovering, Mikayla Miller, and Abby Sumption; Soil Science major Alexus Schemionek, Agricultural Systems Management major Chance Moran; and Agricultural Economics major Thomas Anderson.

Mainland Europe
The trip began in Italy at the University of Bologna. Their hosts, Drs. Andrea Monti, Walter Zegada, Federica Zanetti and Ana Luisa Fernando, presented lectures to the group about the university, energy crops research, and phytoremediation using energy crops. The group visited the experimental station in Cadriano, where they saw oilseed crops, perennial grasses used for bioenergy and a large outdoor rhizotron trial studying crop roots. “The visit to the University of Bologna was a fantastic learning experience,” said Abby Sumption. “It provided a great opportunity to look at a vast array of bioenergy crops not commonly seen in the United States.”

The next country on the itinerary was Austria. The group visited the European Center for Renewable Energy and Technology Center in Güssing, where Dr. Joachim Tajmel showed them around. Güssing is the model town for renewable energies in Europe. The town is 99% independent of fossil fuels, producing their own energy from local products such as sun, forestry and agriculture. “The Güssing site was very exciting to see due to its sustainable nature. I loved to see how the community could recycle and produce valuable commodities while sustaining and rebuilding their economy,” remarked Elizabeth Lovering.

At the Sonnenerde plant in Riedlingsdorf, founder and owner Gerald Dunst guided the tour of the site. The company makes compost using 8,000 tons of sewage sludge and 8,000 tons of green waste per year. Sonnenerde also has the only commercial biochar producing plant. “There are many precise and complex processes that take place at the Sonnenerde Plant,” explained Alexus Schemionek. “I thought that this visit was one of the most interesting because of my soil background.”

At BOKU University in Vienna, the group met with Drs. Reinhard Neugschwandtner and Hans Peter Kaul, professors in the Department of Agronomy. They toured Bioforschung, an organic, non-profit research and extension center. They also had the opportunity to see an experiment station running a 110-year-old crop rotation and N fertilization experiment.

Nearing the end of the first part of the trip, the group traveled to Germany. In Straubing, they visited the TFZ Centre of Excellence for Renewable Resources (KoNaRo), a large research group that investigates renewable biomass and its use for fuel, electricity, heat, and various products. With host Dr. Maendy Fritz, they toured the research station where miscanthus, switchgrass and tall wheat grass were being grown. One notable crop was the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), which is native to the northern Plains of the U.S. but is seen as simply a weed. At KoNaRo research station, it is being investigated for its biomass use.

The Scandinavian segment of the study abroad tour began in Helsinki, Finland at the Teknologian Tutkimuskeskus (VTT) Institute, an applied research facility that provides leading-edge technology solutions and innovation services. Their host was Dr. Klaus Niemela and the visit focused on biomass research and technology, as well as technology transfer of applications. Yrjo Rauste presented information about remote sensing, a technology being used to monitor Finland’s forests, which cover 70% of the country. Noora Kaisalo presented information about higher education in Finland, which aside from minimal student fees covering health care, lunch and transportation, is free.

The next stop was the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Uppsala, one of the most research-intensive universities in Sweden. The hosts for this visit were Drs. Goran Bergkvist and Nils-Erik Nordh. The visit focused on cropping systems research and crop production ecology and included tours of some field trials. One of the long-term crop systems trials was established in 1936. The winter wheat field trials were impressive, as there was no visible foliar disease, the plant population was significantly high and the plants were robust. “I really enjoyed this visit,” said Mikayla Miller. “Learning about Sweden’s agricultural history was very interesting. His description showed the need for educated agriculture.”

The final city on the itinerary was Copenhagen, Denmark. Dr. Jesper Andersen, an economist operating his own company designing bioenergy plants, served as host. At the University of Copenhagen, the group met with Dr. Christian Bukh, a chemist with an agronomist appointment, and saw field trials of winter wheat being evaluated for energy production. Drone technology is used to take certain field data.

Avedore (DONG) power station near Copenhagen is converting to 100% bioenergy, but also remains flexible and can use coal and natural gas if needed. “I thought the trip to DONG energy was one of the most interesting visits we had on the whole trip,” said James Bjerke. “It was a lot of fun to see a full size industrial operating plant…I learned a lot about power plants and the grids they use to supply energy. “

Jared Nelson summed up the trip well when he wrote, “I can say that this has definitely been a very memorable trip. From learning about the bioenergy processes used, to the Europeans’ ways of agriculture, as well as making new friends. This trip has helped to give me a new perspective at work and on agriculture, but also has helped to give me a new perspective on life.”

This is the second study abroad trip Berti has led. Because of the well-rounded information and experiences covering all aspects of agriculture that they have been able to receive on their tours, Berti says she is planning to refocus the trip toward sustainable agriculture, so it will appeal to and benefit students from many agriculture majors. The course for 2016 will be named “Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Energies in Europe” and the course code, PLSC379/779, will remain the same. To learn more, visit PLSC 379/779 or Study Abroad Services.

Source: Marisol Berti (701-231-6110, )
Editor: Kamie Beeson (701-231-7123, )

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