U.S-Brazil develop biofuels network

By Lisa Gibson
Web exclusive posted May 4, 2009, at 10:07 a.m. CST

A network in development between scientists and universities in the U.S. and Brazil should help forge partnerships and collaboration in biofuels-related research.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State and coordinated by the Fulbright Commission, Brazil, the Brazil–U.S. Higher Education Network's Biofuel Network aims to promote awareness of research activities, improve communication, and develop and enhance scientific exchange between the two countries in the biofuels field, according to Fulbright Brazil.

This is the first such program coordinated by Fulbright, according to Thais Rodrigues Coser, Fulbright Secretariat–Thematic Networks coordinator. "I believe this network could help not to duplicate efforts," she said. "The basic objective is to work as a clearinghouse so people know what is going on in Brazil and what is going on in the U.S. in research."

The Biofuel Network's Web page, www.brazil-usa-henetwork.org/biofuels, includes for its members a forum, a virtual library and database with educational and research background, and contact information for members divided by area of interest. When collaboration begins, information about joint research projects, published articles, products, patents and other topics will be updated in the network and on the Web page, according to Fulbright. Network participants also will meet periodically for workshops.

The network advisory boards, one in each of the two countries and made up of researchers from academic, federal and private sector firms, are taking applications for membership and will base decisions on specific criteria including a doctoral degree and at least one article published in a scientific journal or a research project on biofuels in the works, according to the network's Web site. Graduate students may join if they are recommended by a thesis adviser or coordinator and if they possess required qualifications, it says. The registration form for membership can be found on the Web site.

As Brazil and the U.S. are global leaders in biofuel research, drawing them together through a cohesive mechanism makes sense, according to Andre Boehman, advisory board member from Pennsylvania State University. "There are more opportunities for contact and collaboration."

The Brazil–U.S. Higher Education Network also will develop networks for research collaboration in the areas of environmental sciences and health, but partnerships in biofuels research will be especially beneficial, Coser said. The network also is expected to provide information and access to funding opportunities for research and projects.

The network initiative developed from a meeting in August, 2007, when U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and a U.S. university delegation visited Brazil to discuss areas of mutual interest, according to Coser. Together with Brazilian university rectors, the delegation identified the need for closer information sharing between higher education sectors in the two countries.

Board members have identified nine important sub-fields of biofuels research on which to focus: feedstocks; biodiesel; alcohol fuels; hydrocarbons and synthetics; hydrogen; coproducts; engines and lubricants; life-cycle analysis; and environmental, social and economic sustainability, according to the Web site.

The Biofuels Network advisory boards met face-to-face for the first time in late February in Florida. Each had met in their respective countries previously. February's meeting established the first short course on biofuels technology offered to graduate students and professionals from both countries. It is slated for July 27 through Aug. 7 this year at the University of Sao Paulo Institute for Advanced Studies, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Forty participants, 20 from each country, will be admitted to the course, Coser said, and instructors also will hail from both countries.

The course is an important tool and vehicle for people who want to learn and discuss the best ways to serve the biofuels community, according to Michael Haas, of the USDA'a Agricultural Research Service center in Philadelphia and one of two network co-leaders. Information on the course and registration can be found on the Biofuel Network Web site.
"The Biofuel Network is intended to and very likely will be successful in bringing people together," Boehman said. That facilitated collaboration among researchers is the key benefit to the network, he added.