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Updated: 06/19/2014 08:00:02AM

Bioenergy Education Program coming to SFSC this fall

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Beginning this fall, South Florida State College will offer a Bioenergy Education Program to provide students with a foundation of environmental sciences and renewable energy.

With a rising interest in green chemistry and sustainability, and escalating oil prices, bioenergy is on the forefront of the flourishing biofuels market. Biofuels are a sustainable energy source made from organic materials or recycled oils converted into liquid fuels.

SFSC’s district of Hardee, Highlands and DeSoto counties has the ideal climate, soil composition, available agricultural land, local infrastructure, and potential workforce to quickly emerge as a thriving biofuel industry.

“This is a great opportunity for our community to become more involved in supplying an energy source for our state,” said Kevin Brown, dean of applied sciences and technologies at SFSC.

While a number of universities provide advanced degrees in biofuels and biomass production, SFSC is focused on preparing individuals for technician positions.

SFSC’s unique Bioenergy Education Program is an establishment of a much-needed, industry-driven preparation program that addresses the bioenergy market’s progressive educational needs.

The program has enhanced this transition by creating viable curriculum, training protocols, and industry support to produce an educated workforce designed to meet industry demands.

SFSC’s Biofuels Education Program offers an Associate in Science degree in Biofuels Technology and Biomass Cultivation, industry certificates, and a dual-enrollment track for high school students.

The Bioenergy Education Program through SFSC will impact the K-12 education system in several ways as well, particularly in advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content.

In recent years, the U.S. has begun to focus on alternate sources of energy to curb its dependence on foreign providers. Central and south Florida, with its warm, moist subtropical environment, is ideal for the production of energy cane, sweet sorghum, and sugarcane — plants upon which advanced biofuel production relies.

The most common types of liquid biofuels are ethanol, an alcohol made from plant biomass, and biodiesel, a combination of hydrocarbon chains with some similarities to petro diesels, but without the pollutants.

“This program will benefit our region by preparing the workers needed to staff the biomass growing operations and fuel production facilities,” Dr. Burch said.

In 2013, Dr. Burch was hired by SFSC to develop the innovative Biofuels Education Program. As the program develops, she will continue to work to determine the knowledge and skills their employees need. Dr. Burch’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in biology from Millersville University, and a master’s degree in botany from the University of Florida.