EGEE 439: Alternative Fuels from Biomass Sources
This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve as our course "contract."
- Course Overview
- Required Course Materials
- Assignments and Grading
- Course Schedule
- Course Policies
Dr. Caroline B. Clifford
Senior Research Associate/Lecturer
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University
- Phone: 814-865-8673 (Office) - best to email me first, however
- E-mail: Please use the course e-mail system. (Use the Inbox on the Global Navigation Menu in Canvas)
- Office Hours: Please contact me to set up a time to meet in my office.
NOTE: I will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums at least once per day during the work week (Monday through Friday). You may see me online occasionally on the weekends, but please don't count on it!
EGEE 439: Alternative Fuels from Biomass Sources (3 credits)
This course will examine the chemistry of technologies of bio-based sources for power generation and transportation fuels.
Prerequisites and concurrent courses:
- CHEM 110 or comparable general chemistry course
Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be dis-enrolled during the first 10-day free add-drop period after being informed in writing by the instructor (see Senate policy 34-60, Prerequisites and Concurrent Courses). If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who re-enroll after being dis-enrolled according to this policy are in violation of Item 15 on the Student Code of Conduct.
When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:
- describe various biomasses that can be utilized for energy and fuel generation;
- explain the composition of various processes necessary for biomass processing;
- utilize the necessary chemistry, as well as mass and energy balances that would be utilized in a biorefining facility;
- analyze how to utilize biofuels in current fuel infrastructure;
- illustrate what is required in a biorefinery.
On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.
I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me as well as with your fellow students.
Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson. The class schedule is published in Canvas under Syllabus in the course and also on the Calendar in the Global Navigation Menu.
You will not be required to purchase a book. There are not all that many biofuel books that cover all of the aspects that I cover in this course. However, there will be excerpts of books and articles posted online for you to read (see 'Reserve materials' below).
Online lesson content
All materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk.
This course uses library Electronic Reserves (E-Reserves). More information about how to access this content is available in the course orientation.
This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:
- Homework (20%) will include written activities related to the lesson content and supplemental readings. It may include summaries and calculations.
- Discussion (15%) will allow students to discuss topics related to the lesson content and supplemental readings.
- Exams (40%) will be given to assess students' understanding of lesson concepts.
- Final project (25%) will be a written biorefinery report which will be due by the end of the semester.
Citation and Reference Style
You will use CSE citation style.
It is important that your work be submitted in the proper format to the appropriate Canvas Assignment or Discussion Forum and by the designated due date. I strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier!
Due dates for all assignments are posted on the course calendar in Canvas.
For the first time since the inception of this course, exams will be implemented through the testing center. Exams can be accessed in the Exams Folder on Canvas during the assigned time period. The exams will be short answer, multiple choice, and possibly true/false. Important Note: Questions will be displayed one at a time. You will have only one attempt for each question. No navigation between questions, no backtracking, and no review is allowed. While taking the exam, please consider your answer to each question carefully before you submit it. Exams will be taken at the Pollock Testing Facility on the date of the exam. A communication will be sent out regarding exam taking a week prior to the exam date in order for you to sign up for a time to take it.
I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades. You can see your grades in the gradebook, too, by clicking the Grades in the Global Navigation Menu. Overall course grades will be determined as follows. Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned.
|A||93 - 100 %|
|A-||90 - <93 %|
|B+||87.0 - <90.0 %|
|B||80 - <87 %|
|B-||78.0 - <80 %|
|C+||70 - <78.0 %|
|C||65 - <70.0 %|
|D||60 - <65 %|
|F||< 60 %|
|X||Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)|
I do not usually have a curve. However, depending on circumstances, grade cut offs may be adjusted.
I do not accept any "late work." In exceptional circumstances, you should contact me. The earlier you contact me to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis. Generally, late assignments will be assessed a penalty of at least 10% and will not be accepted more than one week after original due date.
Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is twelve lessons, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. However, for a couple of lessons, there are two weeks to cover the class. Each lesson is one week long, with a couple of exceptions. See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.
The entire course is open. However, it is advised that you not work too far ahead as later lessons may still be in development.
Weekly schedule: Lessons open on Monday, close on Sunday. I expect you to participate in the online discussion forums at least 2 times per week.
|Topics:||Orientation to Course|
|Assignments:||See Course Orientation|
Read "Chapter 10: Biofuels." Renewable Energies. Ed. Jean-Claude Sabonnadiere. Hoboken, NJ: ISTE Ltd/John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
Read "Introduction: An Overview of Biofuels and Production Technologies." Handbook of Biofuels Production: Processes and Technologies. Ed. Rafael Luque, Juan Campelo, and James Clark. Oxford: Woodhead Pub., 2011.
|Assignments:||Homework #1, Discussion #1|
|Topics:||Basics of petroleum refining, Chemistry of liquid fuels for various engines|
Read Bryce, Robert. Power Hungry: The Myths of "green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2010. (Chapters 1-3)
Read Laughlin, Robert B. Powering the Future: How We Will (eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow. New York: Basic, 2011. Print. (Chapter 7)
|Assignments:||Homework #2, Discussion #2|
|Topics:||Basics of electricity generation using steam, composition of coal, products from combustion of coal, environmental damage from coal|
|Assignments:||Homework #3, Discussion #3, Exam 1|
|Topics:||Combustion of biomass, gasification of biomass|
|Assignments:||Homework #4, Discussion #4|
|Topics:||Design features of different types of gasifiers, Chemical structures on various parts of biomass, Pretreatment methods of biomass|
Read Wald, Matthew. "On the Horizon, Planes Powered by Plant Fuel." New York Times 17 Jan. 2012.
Read "Obama’s Pitch on Energy." New York Times 14 Feb. 2012, The Opinion Pages sec.
Read Laughlin, Robert B. Powering the Future: How We Will (eventually) Solve the Energy Crisis and Fuel the Civilization of Tomorrow. New York: Basic, 2011. Print. (Chapter 3)
|Assignments:||Homework #5, Discussion #5, Exam #2|
|Topics:||Biochemistry of enzymes|
Read Lynd, L. R., P. J. Weimer, W. H. Van Zyl, and I. S. Pretorius. "Microbial Cellulose Utilization: Fundamentals and Biotechnology." Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 66.3 (2002): 511-15.
Read Rosenberg, Tina. "In Africa’s Vanishing Forests, the Benefits of Bamboo." New York Times 13 Mar. 2012.
|Assignments:||Homework #6, Discussion #6|
*****SPRING BREAK WEEK*****
|Topics:||Biochemical processing to produced ethanol, Biochemical processing to produce butanol|
Read Robison, D. (2012, March 19). Startup Converts Plastic To Oil, And Finds A Niche. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
Read Bourzac, K. (2009, July 9). Biofuel Plant Opens in Brazil. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
|Topics:||Chemical processing to produce ethanol, butanol, and other chemicals|
|Readings:||Read Synopsis (pp.1-7). (2009). In Liquid transportation fuels from coal and biomass technological status, costs, and environmental impacts. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.|
|Assignments:||Discussion #8, Final Project Outline, Exam #3|
|Topics:||Chemistry of fats and oils, Processing of fats and oils to make biodiesel and biojet fuels,|
|Readings:||Watch 3-part Biodiesel Production Demonstration videos|
|Topics:||Algae growth and methods of extraction and conversion|
|Assignments:||Final Project Rough Draft|
|Topics:||Economics of Biomass Production – Ethanol, Butanol, and Biodiesel|
Read Matthew Philips, “Ethanol, Fighting for Its Life, Gets a Temporary Reprieve,” (link is external) Bloomberg Report, Nov. 24, 2014.
Read Scott Irwin, “Understanding the behavior of biodiesel RINs prices,” Ag Professional, Oct. 13, 2014.
|Topics:||Anaerobic digestion and other gases|
|Assignments:||Exam 4, Final Project (see due dates below)|
Last 2 Weeks: Final Project Final Draft Due & Final Exam
For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the ITS Help Desk (for students at all other campus locations).
Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.
This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted. We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our technical requirements page to view the mixed content.
This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).
Penn State E-mail Accounts
All official communications from the Penn State World Campus are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.
This course follows the guidelines for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."
All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.
For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) website.
In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation, see Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.
Counseling and Psychological Services
Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Services include the following:
Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling and Psychological Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741
Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents
Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.
Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.
In case of weather-related delays at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.
Connect Online with Caution
Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know.
If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.
This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.
If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect
Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.
For additional information, see:
- Penn State Affirmative Action non-discrimination statement
- Policy AD 85 Sexual and gender-based harassment and misconduct, Title IX
- Policy AD91 Discrimination and Harassment, and Related inappropriate Conduct
- Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence
- Penn State Values
- Penn State Principles
- All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
Mandated Reporting Statement
Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention & Response website.
Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.
Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.