Congressman James Clyburn, far left, and White House official Nancy Sutley, second from left, observe student research at Claflin University during their Feb. 13 visit. Also pictured is Dr. Verlie Tisdale, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
Nancy Sutley, chairperson of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Claflin University's alternative fuel research is on the cutting edge during a visit to the Orangeburg institution.
Sutley noted America is dangerously dependent on foreign oil. The research on biofuels taken place at Claflin is a key ingredient toward reducing petroleum's presence in the nation's energy diet, she said.
“They are pushing ahead in the global race for new energy sources,” said Sutley. “People here are very focused on breakthrough research that will unlock these technologies.”
Sutley was accompanied by U.S. Congressman James Clyburn and S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers during the campus visit. They were visiting various places in the Midlands that showcased the state's commitment to green energy.
Clyburn, the assistant Democratic leader of the House, naturally thought to include the University in the tour. He was instrumental in securing a $4 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to further the University's existing research for producing butanol, a renewable alternative fuel that has an energy content and price point comparable to gasoline.
"I am very impressed with the biobutanol research that is taking place at Claflin, and can see the $4 million in federal funding I secured for this project is being invested wisely. This project has the potential to develop clean alternatives to fossil fuels and help wean America off of our dependence on foreign oil. It is also cost effective because it can utilize the existing gasoline infrastructure without expensive retrofits. I am encouraged by the work taking place at Claflin, and wanted Chair Sutley and the White House to know of this tremendous project that helps to achieve their goal to create a comprehensive energy strategy that will enhance national security, protect the environment and public health, and create new jobs,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn, Sutley and Weathers heard presentations from Director of the S.C. Center for Biotechnology Dr. Omar Bagasra, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kamal Chowdhury and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Muthukrishna Raja on their energy research.
The University is developing a microorganism it developed that turns the cellulose from sugar cane into butanol. Chowdhury is working on ways to grow sugar cane, the source of butanol, is colder climates. Typically, sugar cane is mostly grown in warmer climates like South Florida. Raja meanwhile is aiming to develop a more efficient jet fuel created from the waste of butanol production. The waste is rich in carbon and if fused with oxygen has a higher energy content than current jet fuel.
Clyburn said that Claflin's approach to biofuels will lead “to cleaner, greener sources of energy.”