HERO BX partnership extends open-lab model to college’s School of Science
A $1 million investment by HERO BX, an Erie-based biodiesel company, is creating research opportunities for students and faculty members in the School of Science. Much of the work is conducted in a new, 1,500-square-foot chemistry lab the company has developed in the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center in Knowledge Park.
Students are working with HERO BX chemists and other researchers to reduce the sulfur in biodiesel feedstocks, which are processed for reuse as transportation fuels and heating oil. HERO BX produces more than fifty million gallons of biodiesel every year.
Subsequent work by students is expected to focus on increasing the efficiency of biodiesel in coldtemperature applications, including commercial aviation.
HERO BX operates production and distribution facilities in Erie, Alabama, and New Hampshire. The company is the largest producer of biodiesel in the eastern United States.
HERO BX staffs the Knowledge Park lab with a full-time manager. Penn State Behrend students contribute to research during the academic year and as summer interns for the company.
“Having a lab on campus gives our students the flexibility to work in new ways,” said Dr. Martin Kociolek, director of the School of Science and an associate professor of chemistry. “It is much easier for students to integrate their work with HERO BX into their academic schedules. They can walk over and work for a few hours between classes.”
The commitment by HERO BX to staff the lab with a manager and additional researchers as needed allows students to engage with industry scientists on a daily basis, Kociolek said.
“They don’t work in isolation here,” he said. “They learn the entire process for the production of biodiesel, from beginning to end, and see how the chemistry they have learned in their classes is used in a real-life application.”
The HERO BX partnership is the first open-lab initiative in the college’s School of Science.
“The HERO BX lab creates new opportunities for Penn State Behrend students to collaborate with an industrial research partner – in this case, developing cleaner, domestically produced, renewable fuel sources,” Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “This is a true collaboration, with a commitment by both partners to engage directly and regularly in a way that only a presence on campus makes possible.”
The Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center was designed to foster exactly that kind of collaboration. The building, which is located in the college’s Knowledge Park, advances Penn State Behrend’s open-lab model of learning, which matches students and faculty members with private-sector partners for experiential student learning, applied research, and advanced product development.