Biofuels course based on industry needs

By Luke Geiver | March 16, 2010
Posted March 17, 2010

The view just outside of Harrisburg, Ill., is pretty typical for the area, corn and soybean fields for miles. In the fall of 2010, Southeastern Illinois College located in Harrisburg, will share the view with anyone capable of using a computer, offering multiple biofuels themed courses online. Dr. Jonah Rice, interim president of Southeastern, explained that after taking a scan of the environment the school was in, it seemed natural to offer courses dealing with what the region had to offer. "We've determined there is a market out there for our classes," Rice said.

To teach the classes, titled Energy 111-Introduction to Biofuels, and Energy 151-Ethanol Production, the school has brought in Renee Loesche, a former professor of industrial technology, and most recently a participant in a 160-hour Green Jobs Training Initiative covering applied ethanol processes at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center. "It is with great excitement and pride that I join the Renewable Fuels initiative at Southeastern Illinois College," said Loesche. "This innovative ethanol and biofuels program will educate and train workers in support of the Renewable Fuels Standard directive - which is leading our nation toward energy security, economic security, and environmental security while providing jobs for American workers."

The classes will range in topics from biomass sources to advanced ethanol production methods. Rice said after talking with former alumni now working for Blendstar LLC out of Houston, and visiting a Green Plains Renewable Ethanol facility in Tennessee the decision of what to include in the courses became clear. "They explained the skills they thought would be most useful," Rice said. The skills emphasized, according to Rice, are chemistry, mathematics and a strong emphasis on communication. Loeshce, who's worked with Genencor, Abengoa and Monsanto, explains that most biofuels companies are looking for employees who have a baseline understanding of the ethanol industry and who know the different processes involved at a plant.

Loesche plans to include projects for making ethanol and live chats discussing everything from indirect land use to the future of cellulosic ethanol. She has reviewed a number of texts for the class and said, "Surprisingly, there is a lot of information on biofuels in a number of textbooks."

The course will cost roughly $300 and Loesche thinks that people already in an ethanol-related field or those that see a future in ethanol will be the ones most likely to register for the course. Dana Keating, vice president of academic affairs, said virtually anyone could take the course. "There aren't very many courses like this one," Keating said. "We hope to market this biofuels course nationally."