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IDOE backs UMaine's biofuel initiative

The Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded more than $1.5 million to the University of Maine to advance ongoing efforts to develop methods for converting biomass from Maine's forests into fuels and valuable chemicals. The state will contribute 50 percent in matching funds to the multifaceted project through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund.

The funding through the DOE's Experimental Programs to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) will be added to the $6.9 million the Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative received in a 2006 National Science Foundation EPSCoR award.

The UMaine initiative is a multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists from educational institutions and businesses across the state who are working to develop effective and efficient methods for transforming waste products from paper processing and other wood-based enterprises into fuels, plastics and other materials.

"This project adds the thermal conversion pathway to our earlier biochemical conversion focus for the utilization of woody biomass to produce biofuels and other coproducts," says Hemant Pendse, chair of UMaine's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. "Together, these projects put UMaine in the position of strength to deal with the entire spectrum of technical issues involved in biomass conversion."

Supporting 12 researchers across the state, the new research cluster will allow UMaine to expand its efforts to overcome the technological barriers faced by Maine companies working to develop techniques for producing wood-based fuels and chemicals within the wood products industry's infrastructure.

It's political

College students involved in emotionally charged movements like campus-based antirape campaigns often describe their activism as nonpolitical, but avoiding politics can limit the potential to bring about social change, according to a University of Maine sociologist.

Even actions that appear at first glance to be apolitical have political consequences for movements and their participants, according to Amy Blackstone, assistant professor of sociology, writing in the journal Sociological Spectrum.

Politics has to do with power —who has it, who wants it and how it is negotiated, given or taken away. While very personal, sexual violence also is an important social problem linked to broader relations of power and inequity in society. Volunteers' self-effacing characterizations of their efforts as above or below politics can limit the transformative potential, says Blackstone.

Helping people is arguably the most important aspect of the antirape movement. Activists and volunteers Blackstone interviewed and observed emphasized that their work is done, in part, to be with other like-minded people and, especially in informal settings, to have enjoyment and camaraderie. At the other end of the spectrum, volunteers see activities such as Take Back the Night marches and vigils as solemn, almost sacred. In both cases, they perceive the emphasis on emotion superseding the focus on social change.

Whatever participants' reasons for wanting to avoid a political label, their involvement contributes to changing some aspect of our social structure, and in so doing, they have found politics, Blackstone says.

Fresh water in the gulf

Significant shifts in the marine ecosystems of the northwest Atlantic in the past decade, including changes in the abundance and seasonal cycles of phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, were the result of a dramatic increase in meltwater entering the ocean due to climate change, according to two marine researchers.

In a paper published in a recent issue of the journal Science, Andrew Pershing of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Charles Greene of Cornell University's Ocean Resources and Ecosystems Program suggest that the increase in low-salinity water entering the Atlantic from the Arctic altered circulation and stratification patterns, resulting in an ecosystem regime shift — a large, relatively rapid alteration in the ecosystem at multiple levels.

Dramatic changes in the abundance of herring, shrimp and other species in the 1990s were reversed when saltier conditions returned around 2001.

Breakfast and weight control

Maintaining a healthy weight starts with the right breakfast foods that can increase satiety or a sense of fullness, often reducing hunger throughout the morning and at lunchtime, according to two University of Maine food scientists.

Delayed satiety contributes to overeating, which is why it's never a good idea to skip breakfast, according to Professor Mary Ellen Camire and dietetic intern Megan Blackmore, writing in the journal Food Technology. The key to selecting good breakfast foods for the greatest satiety involves knowing the effects of food volume, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and dietary fiber on appetite.

In their review of the literature, Camire and Blackmore explored the options for increasing satiety through breakfast foods. Those most satiating: oatmeal, followed by whole-grain bread, high-bran cereal and eggs. Among the other points highlighted:

Expanding food volume without more calories by whipping foods or adding water can increase the feeling of fullness.

High-protein meals delay stomach emptying and create longer-lasting satiety.

Fat-free breakfast foods may backfire because satiety may be reduced.

An Australian study found a high-bran breakfast reduced hunger and increased fullness and alertness most, compared to meals of croissants, eggs and bacon, and cornflakes.

A green economy

From solid waste management companies to nontraditional energy start-ups, environmental and energy technology businesses and organizations in Maine generated

$574 million in sales, supported 5,269 jobs and provided $222.8 million in employee earnings in 2006, according to a survey by University of Maine School of Economics researchers.

The survey by resource economists Todd Gabe and Caroline Noblet is the first comprehensive report on the economic significance of Maine's environmental and energy technology sector. Based on statistics from government and industry sources, the report outlines a growing sector with nearly 700 Maine business and organizations. More than half employ one or two workers.

Although these businesses can be found throughout Maine, Cumberland and York counties are home to a combined 45 percent of environmental and energy technology industries.

Funded through a cluster enhancement award from the Maine Technology Institute and conducted in cooperation with the Environmental and Energy Technology (E2Tech) Council of Maine, the study provides a definition of the sector and a way to track growth.

Gabe and Noblet also expect to provide data regarding operating conditions for businesses in the sector in Maine.

Insight lite: Too much of a good thing

How does your garden grow?

Hopefully a good summer growing season is yielding a bountiful crop of fresh vegetables. It's about this time of year when the fresh veggie harvest is continuous, bordering on overwhelming. The sustainable agriculture students of the Black Bear Food Guild know all about growing the freshest vegetables for their community-supported agriculture (CSA) shareholders. They also have creative suggestions for coping with copious amounts of produce that come on all at once, including profuse zucchini. As in past years, this season's guild members — Hayley Williams, Britta Jinson and Elonnai Hickok — offer CSA subscribers recipes for using bumper crops of fresh produce. They also have general tips:

  • Freeze those fresh veggies to enjoy summer produce year-round.

  • Try out different recipes on family and friends. Ever had zucchini or beet chocolate cake?

  • Have a creative vegetable cook-off with friends to come up with fun, innovative dishes.

  • Try juicing your favorite veggies in nutritious, delicious drinks or dry produce to use in soups and other dishes.

  • Can fresh produce to preserve the taste of summer for home use or gift giving.

Mercury in Acadia

A seven-year study of mercury contamination in Maine's Acadia National Park has documented that fish, amphibians and even tree swallows have high concentrations of the metal in their systems.

In a series of papers published in a special issue of the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, researchers from the University of Maine, Plymouth State University, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service and Harvard University demonstrated why concentrations of mercury in the environment are higher in some places than in others.

Ten lead scientists traced mercury as it moved from the sky to the mountains of Acadia, down through the forest canopy, and into streams and lakes, where it built up in zooplankton, insects, fish and fish-eating wildlife.

The researchers found evergreen forests of spruce, fir and pine act as air filters, raking mercury from the air. As a result, the amount of mercury that falls through the forest canopy is much higher than that detected in rain alone. The mercury is washed to the ground with rain, snow, and falling needles and twigs, where it collects in the soil, and eventually moves into streams and lakes.

Walpole and the White Sea

Researcher Alexander Tzetlin, a professor of biology at Moscow State University and director of the White Sea Biological Station (WSBS), visited the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine recently to discuss possible collaborations and to learn more about marine laboratory administration from center director Kevin Eckelbarger.

Located on the Arctic Circle along the shores of the White Sea, WSBS is one of the most remote marine laboratories in the world. Accessible only by boat or snowmobile, the facility is one of five marine stations in Russia. The fauna of the White Sea is very similar to that of the Gulf of Maine.

Tzetlin hopes to increase the international visibility and research use of WSBS, and sees the Darling Center as a model. He spoke at length with Eckelbarger regarding operations, affiliations, funding and marketing. The meeting also helped lay the foundation for possible collaborations between UMaine marine scientists and Moscow State University researchers. Moscow State has the largest marine science program in Russia.

Optimizing Atlantic cod

An advantage of land-based aquaculture is the ability to manipulate water temperature, an important factor affecting growth, survival and feed efficiency of fish. That's particularly pertinent when raising Atlantic cod and trying to reduce time to market as cost-effectively as possible.

The key is in finding a balance between maximizing feed efficiency achieved at lower temperatures and growth rate in warmer waters, according to University of Maine aquaculture researchers, writing in a recent issue of the journal Aquaculture.

UMaine aquaculture nutritionist Linda Kling, and graduate students Adrian Jordaan and Jennifer Muscato Hansen conducted two, four-week growth trials on juvenile Atlantic cod to determine optimal temperature for best growth and feed efficiency. Among their latest findings: Juvenile cod have good growth rates and minimal loss of feed efficiency when raised in water temperatures up to 14 degrees C.

In documenting the relationship between growth, feed efficiency, temperature and survival for juvenile cod, the researchers found fish gained weight best in waters 14 and 16 degrees C, but fed less efficiently than if the water was 10 degrees C. In addition, cannibalism was generally higher in the warmer water.

A pellet twice the size of the 1 millimeter used in the first experiment was fed in the second. A 2-millimeter pellet is considered large for other fish species of this size, but appears to greatly reduce the cannibalism that usually plagues cod hatcheries.

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