My research is interdisciplinary in nature, focusing on renewable energy production from agricultural byproducts and wastes using anaerobic digestion technology. Anaerobic digestion is a microbial process where organic substrates are converted principally to methane and carbon dioxide (biogas). U...
My research is interdisciplinary in nature, focusing on renewable energy production from agricultural byproducts and wastes using anaerobic digestion technology. Anaerobic digestion is a microbial process where organic substrates are converted principally to methane and carbon dioxide (biogas). Using a combination of engineering principles, analytical chemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology, my research focuses on understanding the mechanisms of microbial conversion of substrates into renewable energy. By understanding the process at a molecular level, avenues for optimization of the process can be discovered. Previously I have done research looking at the conversion of specified risk materials from the beef cattle industry into biogas using anaerobic digestion. As part of this work, I also investigated the fate of infectious prion proteins, the causative agent of “Mad Cow Disease”, in anaerobic digestion systems.
A derivative of my research on anaerobic digestion is the production of biohydrogen through fermentation. Hydrogen is an energy dense intermediate product in anaerobic digestion that can be collected as a final product under certain process conditions. There are thermodynamic constraints imposed on biohydrogen production, which results in poor conversion of substrate to product. Understanding how the microbial community responds to these constraints is an important step in discovering areas for future genetic manipulation that will enable better substrate conversion rates. I have previously done research investigating the biohydrogen production potential of cattle manure, specified risk materials, and potato processing waste.
I am also interested in composting as a way to manage nutrients in agricultural wastes and reduce pathogens. Composting can also be a low cost technology employed in emergency situations for the disposal of animal mortalities. In the event of a zoonotic outbreak requiring the disposal of large numbers of potentially infectious animals, composting is a disposal strategy that can safely and quickly be employed on site. I am interested in the chemical and microbial processes involved in composting a wide range of substrates. I have previously done research investigating the disposal of cattle mortalities in compost, as well as the fate of infectious prions and Bacillus spp. endospores during composting. I have also examined the biodegradation of recalcitrant substrates such as hydrocarbons, lignocellulose, and keratin in compost systems.