At UT's weekly science forum, speaker Richard Giannone, a bioanalytical mass spectrometrist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), presented his work on potential biofuel development from bacteria found at Yellowstone National Park.
According to recent statistics, the need for an alternative energy source to oil and gasoline is becoming dire, especially in the United States. The rapidly increasing demand for energy will soon catch up with the dwindling supply of these nonrenewable resources.
An audience of around 25 students, professors and members of the public listened to Giannone describe his work and possible solutions to this impending crisis.
Giannone is currently part of a team at ORNL working to develop an economically viable energy alternative to gasoline and oil from Yellowstone's bacteria. The project is currently in its fifth year.
When characterizing his work at ORNL, Giannone said, "My job involves a huge amount of data synthesis." He added that he and his colleagues are "excited about (the project's) future."
The consequences of not developing cleaner, cheaper and more efficient energy sources are evident. Current methods of obtaining fuel from oil, gasoline and coal are damaging to the environment and are proving to be unsustainable. Giannone noted that it is predicted that by 2030 there will be a 50 percent increase in the world's demand for energy. The U.S. currently uses almost one-fourth of the world's oil. He continued to emphasize that not only is oil a limited resource, but it also leaves a huge carbon footprint.
Scientists like Giannone are working rapidly to find ways to become less dependent on these resources. Ethanol, fuel from corn, is becoming especially popular in the search for alternative energy.
Giannone's research for obtaining energy from bacteria is to avoid competing with a major food source, as is the case with ethanol. While ethanol has the potential to replace a third of the U.S. transport demand, Giannone notes that it is more of a stopping point in conserving oil than a permanent solution.
When looking for new sources of fuel, the main question to ask is whether or not the energy put into harvesting the new fuel is less than the energy it puts out. Part of what Giannone and other scientists at ORNL are doing is determining whether or not it is possible to harness enough energy from Yellowstone's bacteria to make it a worthwhile source of energy.
Giannone received a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and Biotechnology in 2003 from Rutgers and a Ph.D in Genome Science and Technology from UT in 2008.
Kelsey Campbell, undecided freshman, believes that scientists like Giannone are doing important work, and she is considering majoring in environmental studies to join the cause.
"I think the United States needs to get serious about solving the energy crisis. We are not making it enough of a priority," Campbell said. "The job field is growing in this area, and I would like to be a part of making the world cleaner and more efficient."
There will be no science forum this Friday due to fall break. On Oct.19, Dana Dodd, president of Appalachian Bear Rescue, will speak. The UT Science Forum takes place in room C-D of Thompson-Boling Arena on Fridays from noon to 1 p.m.