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Aggie Biochemists Shine at 2014 National Biodiesel Conference

Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014

magazine cover with USU student Michael R. Morgan

USU undergrad biochemist Michael R. Morgan, pictured at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats holding Aggie-produced algal biodiesel, is featured on the cover of the National Biodiesel Board’s magazine.

USU grad students Alex McCurdy and Rhesa Ledbetter presented at confernece

USU doctoral students Alex McCurdy, inset, top left, and Rhesa Ledbetter, lower left, were among 36 students selected nationally to present at the National Biodiesel Board's 2014 Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel program in San Diego.

Three Utah State University students were among 36 scholars from universities throughout the United States honored by the National Biodiesel Board as part of the trade industry association’s Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel program. The Aggies were recognized at the group’s 2014 National Biodiesel Conference held Jan. 20-23 in San Diego.

Biochemistry students Michael R. Morgan, Alex McCurdy and Rhesa Ledbetter presented research the team is conducting with faculty mentor Lance Seefeldt, professor in USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The biochemists are developing biodiesel from unique yeast, bacterial and algal platforms. The team supplied both yeast and algal biodiesel for a USU-built dragster that set speed records on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.

“We’re currently working to create high value products from yeast strains left over from cheese production,” says Morgan, an undergrad researcher who drove USU’s “Aggie A-Salt” race car to its speed records.

At the conference, Morgan was one of seven students selected to present a talk at gathering, attended by more than 1,100 industry professionals. He detailed the USU team’s testing of emissions characteristics from yeast, bacterial and algae-derived biodiesels, while racing the university’s streamliner.

“We spent 18 months just getting the dynamometer set up,” he says. “When we raced on yeast biodiesel, the exhaust smelled like bread.”

Ledbetter and McCurdy, both doctoral students in biochemistry, presented research posters at the gathering. They are studying the proteins extracted from biomass during fuel production, in an effort to better understand and streamline the process. 

“We’re working to produce biofuels more efficiently,” Ledbetter says. “It was great to meet with experts in the biodiesel industry in San Diego, since this is a relatively new field. The collaborations we made will enhance our research.”

(Ledbetter is featured in a video interview conducted at the conference.)

“By engaging with student scientists, our industry has not only learned about their upcoming research, but has opened new lines of communication with their professors and university researchers as well,” says Don Scott, NBB’s director of sustainability. “Student scientists who participated this year are passionate, energetic and innovative.”

Morgan, pictured at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats holding a bottle of USU-produced biofuel, is featured on the cover of the association’s March/April 2014 issue of Biodiesel Magazine. The issue features the USU biochemists’ research efforts.

Related links:

Contact: Lance Seefeldt, 435-797-3964,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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