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Research Foci: Food quality, safety and biosecurity; sustainable ecosystems; renewable bioenergy. Integrating Engineering and Biology since 1906.

BAE has an active research faculty. The four scholarly foci of BAE integrate engineering and biology, emphasizing the interactions, interdependencies, and relationships between these foci. Faculty conduct research in bioenergy, food safety, water quality, animal manure management, biosensors for early and rapid detection, and sensors for detecting food quality, and natural products processing.  Our grant portfolio consists of grants from major federal agencies (e.g., USDA, NSF, EPA, DoD, DOT, DOS, USAID and NIH), state agencies (e.g., MDARD, MDEQ, Michigan Agency for Energy, Michigan Public Service Commission), private sector partners (e.g.,  Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Meijer, Nestlé, Eli Lilly, Granger, Consumers Energy, Dow, Ford, and Trojan Technologies), and stakeholder commodity groups.  BAE faculty members also collaborate with small businesses to develop and commercialize new technologies to solve pressing problems in food, environment, energy, and health.  The BAE research portfolio includes basic, applied, and translational research.  

Our average publications, in peer-reviewed journals, was 4.5 per FTE in 2014, based on a three-year rolling average.   Most of the papers are published in prestigious journals in individuals’ research fields, such as the International Journal of Food Microbiology, Journal of Food Protection, Water Research, Environmental Science and Technology, Green Chemistry, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, Bioresource Technology, Applied Energy, Biosensors and Bioelectronics, Diagnostics, Applied Engineering in Agriculture, Transactions of ASABE, and other venues, such as the peer-reviewed eXtension website.

Our faculty, staff, and students are working to ensure food safety and quality; we are at the forefront of developing methods to protect the environment and conserve natural resources; we are leaders in the advancement of technologies and conversions of waste to resources; and we are enhancing public health with advanced biosensors and risk assessment methodologies. For example, the BAE microbial food safety engineering program is well recognized nationally, as evidenced by long-term competitive funding.  The Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center is nationally recognized for applied research, development, evaluation, and optimization of bioenergy processes.  The campus anaerobic digestion system, established from the outcomes of BAE research, handles all MSU campus food waste and generates 0.5 MW of renewable electricity. BAE algal research led to the implementation of pilot-scale photo-bioreactors at the MSU power plant to utilize the CO2 in the flue gas to sequester carbon and produce value-added algal proteins. Our solar-biopower research in Central America implemented a bioenergy/environment research facility at University of Costa Rica and helped establish the National Biogas Council for Costa Rica in 2015.  Research, such as that generated in the MSU Animal Air Quality Research Facility, shows an estimated 2,047 tons of ammonia emissions has been reduced since 2012, compared to 2006. Overall, BAE research programs have real and positive impacts on the world.

Food: Food Safety and Quality

Food engineering research topics include microbial food safety, thermal and novel processing, non-destructive quality assessment, biosensors for food safety and protection, and nutraceuticals and functional foods.  Our food research portfolio includes raw product, processing, and food safety aspects and combines efforts related to global as well as local (Michigan) industry needs and issues.

It is important for MSU to serve the processing and food industries in Michigan to help maintain such within the state. Extension is important to problem identification, exchange of information, and collaboration.  Without our existing strong linkages (to industry and state/federal agencies) there would be a decline in food industry support to MSU and the contributions the industry makes to university programming.

Michigan has a rich and diverse agro-food industry and as a result has many food-related businesses. Therefore, the BAE emphasis on food safety and quality is a key contribution to the MSU mission and the state and national economies.

Photo of Undesirable fibrous tissue (safety) & vegetable density in processing carrots

Energy: Bioenergy and bioproduct solutions

Energy research topics include biological, biochemical, and thermal biomass conversion into biofuels and bioproducts, value-added chemical production from algae, farm-based biorefining, biomass inventory and energy modeling, energy efficiency and conservation. Because BAE benefitted from the Energy Cluster hires over the past decade, we have a strong core of bioenergy and bioprocessing faculty members who are building a national reputation for MSU.  Many Michigan-based companies seek out our expertise in this area, looking for research-based solutions to their energy problems.

Because Michigan has such an extensive forest resource, a critical Extension component comes into play in working with landowners and harvest operations to most effectively/efficiently manage the biomass supply.  Additionally, the department extends its impact via its Farm Energy program and decision support tools for waste management; without such, many agricultural operations and rural businesses are impacted through poor energy efficiency and inappropriate utilization and handling of waste.

In recent years, MSU created opportunities and invested into energy programs and research. The Quality Fund Energy Cluster hiring ramped up our focus in this area and yielded positive results for MSU and the larger community.  BAE’s approach in energy is broad-based, focusing on bioenergy segments and enhancing MSU’s visibility in this arena.

Anaerobic Digestion Research & Education Center (ADREC) - photo of portable pilot-scale anaerobic digester.

Environment: Sustainable ecosystems and resource conservation

Environment research topics include nutrient management and utilization, pathogen and emerging pollutant fate, ecosystem treatment systems (e.g., constructed wetlands, bioretention), water resources and environmental modeling, ecohydrology, irrigation and groundwater interactions, and onsite, municipal, and agricultural waste and wastewater treatment.  Our research programs help solve societal problems and provide relevance to our teaching and outreach programs.  BAE faculty are intensely involved in, and uniquely positioned for, solving environmental problems within Michigan, including those that affecting food, energy, and health – allowing MSU to be responsive to state-specific environmental needs.  For example, the particular challenge of balancing the nutrients needed to maintain a verdant urban and agricultural landscape with the need to restrict nutrient loss to surface water and the Great Lakes is best solved with a systems approach.  This challenge is particularly acute in the uncertainty of climate change.

Conservation of state natural resources is a state responsibility, while the growing reliance on external funding and evolving tenure criteria pull faculty toward national level research and away from state and regional missions.  Extension activities link applied problem solving of environmental challenges at the university with society. Extension activities account for critical state’s investment in the university. Specific to BAE, Extension “makes a difference” when disseminating new knowledge and management practices related to the environment, such as air emissions and quality, water quality and efficient water use, and resource conservation and efficiency. As in other areas, Extension facilitates issues identification and exchange of information, without which there would be voids in implementation of new knowledge toward providing solutions.

Michigan is blessed with a unique and valuable diversity of natural resources, including the Great Lakes. However, this abundance of fresh surface water and shallow groundwater requires innovative management and engineered protections, as it is easily impacted by land use and waste management practices.

Photo of geospatical layers including slope, land use, soil type, subbasin boundaries, and river networks as used to build a biophysical model for the Saginaw River watershed in Michigan.

Health: Diagnostics, systems models, and risk-assessment tools to enhance public health

Health research topics include nano-bio-based diagnostic sensors, risk assessment models, and risk management and public health policy.  Health is a broad field with many facets. BAE’s holistic perspective of health takes a systems approach to include understanding the role of food safety, water quality, exposure to environmental contaminants in the macro- and micro- environments through risk analysis, and the design and development of health related detection and diagnostic tools. The research is critical to uniquely leveraging and integrating programs in food, health, and the environment.  These areas are globally important, as well as likely very sustainable, opportunities for high-level federal and international funding.

BAE faculty members have recently collaborated with Extension staff on understanding the tradeoffs between water quantity and water quality in terms of environmental and human health. BAE faculty also participate in working groups on antimicrobial resistance risk and mitigation funded through the Center for Health Impacts of Agriculture and One Health.

Photo of lab developing biosensors for food, health and environmental safety and biosecurity