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Purdue Research Fuels Economic Recovery

With concern over climbing energy prices, bio-energy will be a key source of future energy needs. Purdue University research already helps curb America's dependence on foreign oil by transforming renewable plant materials into fuels.

These bio-fuels include ethanol derived from corn, cellulose, and corn waste, as well as diesel fuel made from soybeans. Purdue researchers like Michael Ladisch, distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering, are making these fuels less expensive to produce and creating additional uses for the byproducts.

"The U.S. ethanol fuel industry represents an ongoing success story for the production of renewable fuels, and demand for fuel ethanol is expected to increase," said Ladisch. "Through bio-engineering, Purdue's Laboratory for Renewable Resource Engineering will help turn agricultural waste into transportation fuels."

Photo by Tom Campbell

Rado Gazo is leading the Purdue research team assessing how cooling technologies minimize tool wear and tear in the wood products industry. Two Indiana companies will test the new technologies.

Manufacturing the Future

Successful economic development relies on various factors, among them university research like Ladisch's to solve problems and stimulate technological innovation.

Manufacturing can make a comeback in Indiana as companies find ways to become more efficient and productive. Purdue wood scientists are helping solve a problem in the wood products industry, tool wear, by testing new methods to prolong the life of saws, router bits, and other tools used to make furniture and other wood products.

"Reducing tool wear is just one way we can help wood products companies, such as sawmills, save money," said Rado Gazo, associate professor of wood products and leader of a research team evaluating how cooling methods minimize tool wear. "Extending the life of their tools will allow them to make products more efficiently."

Two Indiana wood products companies are testing the new technologies.

Purdue Agriculture research also helps the state's food processors be more competitive. Many food-processing companies can't expand their production lines because of regulations that limit the amount of water they can discharge into municipal water systems. Water also can be costly—most companies are charged for both the water they use and their wastewater discharges.

To increase water efficiency, Purdue researchers model new systems for recycling wastewater. Martin Okos, professor of food process engineering, worked with a food manufacturing company in southern Indiana to assess the plant's water use. He designed a system that could theoretically cut water use by as much as 50 percent.

"Solutions like these can make manufacturing plants more efficient and competitive, so they can grow new jobs," said Okos.

Models for Success

Purdue's land-grant mission to serve the state of Indiana extends across the university through the Office of Engagement, headed by Vic Lechtenberg. The office matches Purdue experts and resources to statewide needs.

"Extension is an important gateway for Purdue's regional economic development initiatives, said Lechtenberg.

"Extension educators can help point people to resources at Purdue and in the community, region, and state. It won't matter which door you go in— Extension or engagement. You'll get the same answers."

Purdue also partners with local communities to help establish high-tech incubators modeled after the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette. The business and technology parks help communities that have been dependent on traditional manufacturing adapt to a more specialized economy. Technology centers have been started in Anderson, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Kokomo, Hammond, and Shelbyville. Other locations are planned.

Additionally, regional learning networks, which are part of Purdue Extension, provide customized training for all levels in the local work force, as well as a variety of credit and non-credit college courses and classes to enhance life skills. Currently, there are learning centers in Clinton, Hendricks, Jasper, Newton, Pulaski, Tipton, and Whitley counties.

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