Field Notes: Nikki Lorenz/Jamie Hestekin, honors faculty mentor

Young woman talks, gesturing with hands, into microphone, while young professor watches.

Nikki Lorenz explains how to produce butanol from the sweetgum tree, while her advisor Jamie Hestekin looks on.

March 28, 2011

Everything from algae to used cooking oil is being considered as alternatives to gasoline. Professors and students at the U of A are taking a hard look at the sweetgum tree.

“It has a higher mileage per gallon than ethanol – similar to gasoline – and there’s a potential that it can be used in a conventional engine and shipped through existing pipelines,” said Nikki Lorenz, a senior chemical engineering student and member of the Honors College. The sweetgum tree is also fast-growing and and widely available in the southern U.S. – second in number only to the ubiquitous oak.

“We like to think we’re inventing a technology that can help the state of Arkansas,” said Jamie Hestekin, who is overseeing Nikki’s research. Nikki received a SURF grant to support her efforts to produce butanol from sweetgum.  And it’s not easy! She describes the double fermentation hydrolysis process, which involves sulfuric acid and a hot sand bath, in an interview with Kyle Kellams that aired on KUAF 91.3 “Ozarks at Large” program on Tuesday, March 29, 2011.

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