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National Biodiesel Board Establishes Fund to Honor Memory of USU Alum

Thursday, Jul. 03, 2014

USU alum and researcher Dallas Hanks

In a 2009 photo, USU alum Dallas Hanks harvests oilseed plants as part of the UDOT-sponsored Freeways-to-Fuel program he initiated. The National Biodiesel Foundation established a scholarship fund honoring the biofuel innovator, who died June 25.

USU professor Ralph Whitesides with biodiesel industry officials

On a June 26, 2014, visit to USU's Greenville Research Farm, USU professor Ralph Whitesides, far right, explains the university’s safflower research for biofuel use to biodiesel industry officials, from left, Alan Weber, Joe Jobe and Don Scott.

USU professor Lance Seefeldt and grad students and Alan Weber

In the lab of USU biochemistry professor Lance Seefeldt, grad students Alex McCurdy, center, and Hailey Summers, right, explain processes for making biofuel from yeast, algae and bacteria to Alan Weber, left, advisor to the National Biodiesel Board.

Friends and colleagues describe Utah State University alum Dallas Hanks ’91 MS, ’10 PhD, as a “natural educator” eager to share his visionary ideas about biofuel production and lend a hand to students seeking knowledge. The Burley, Idaho native, who founded USU’s Center for Agronomic and Woody Biofuels and Utah’s innovative “Freeways-to-Fuel” program, died June 25, 2014, after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 51.

Alan Weber, senior advisor to the National Biodiesel Board and a longtime colleague of Hanks, visited his friend the day before he died.

“Dallas was a huge supporter and contributor to the board’s Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel program, which provides students with scholarships to attend biofuel industry events and scientific mentoring activities,” Weber says. “It was the consensus of his colleagues and NBB members to establish the Next Generation Scientists Dallas Hanks Memorial Fund to honor Dallas’s legacy and advance the visionary work he started.”

Weber was among four biodiesel industry officials who traveled to Utah June 24-26 to visit Hanks and view USU’s biofuels research efforts.

Among their stops was USU’s Greenville Research Farm, where Hanks’ former faculty mentor Ralph Whitesides oversees fields of safflower being grown for biodiesel.

“The fine hand of Dallas Hanks runs through all of this,” says Whitesides, professor in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate and USU Extension weeds specialist. “Safflower shows promise as an additional crop for Utah farmers to boost their economic well-being and as a rotating crop to improve the condition of their farmland.”

In partnership with the Utah Department of Transportation, Hanks and Whitesides grew safflower and other oilseed crops on highway right-of ways, and investigated similar opportunities using other non-traditional farmland, such as untillable land around airports and military bases.

USU undergrad researcher Mike Morgan, who met Hanks at a 2012 NBB conference, is among those picking up where Hanks left off. The biochemistry major secured an Extension internship and, with Whitesides, is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a project at the Salt Lake City International Airport growing biofuel feedstock plants.  

“Working with Dallas and working to carry on his legacy has been an amazing experience,” says Morgan, who was recently named a co-chair of the NBB’s Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel program. “I don't think anyone else can truly fill his shoes.”

The visitors toured the lab of USU professor Lance Seefeldt, where Morgan also works, and saw reactors, fermenters and other contraptions Morgan and his fellow students have built to distill biofuel from such sources as yeast and algae.

Morgan drove the USU-built “Aggie A-Salt” streamliner race car, powered with USU-made biodiesel, to land speed records in 2012 and 2013. He and colleagues plan additional biodiesel fuel trials at this year’s “Speed-Week” on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.

“Dallas was a brilliant scientist, educator, humanitarian, entrepreneur, spirited lover of life and a certified good dude,” says Joe Jobe, NBB CEO and one of the recent USU visitors. “Our industry was fortunate to be part of his passion — a passion he has passed on to new leaders through the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel, who will continue the work he began.”

Related links:

Biofuel Boom: USU Researchers Forge Innovative Research Partnerships,” Utah State Today

Aggie Biochemists Shine at 2014 National Biodiesel Conference,” Utah State Today

Contact: Mike Morgan,

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

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