17 June 2016

Alyssa Blumenthal came to LiU in September 2015 on a Fulbright scholarship. Now she is full of enthusiasm about the Biogas Research Center (BRC), Linköping University, Sweden and energy-related issues. However she is leaving academia for a job at an energy company in her hometown, New York City.

Alyssa Blumenthal enjoys cooking and cookbooks. It wasn’t a big step for her to compare the ingredients required for producing biogas at a pulp and paper mill, with the ingredients needed to get micro-algae to grow and thrive.

She has put together what she humorously calls a cookbook for biogas. It includes recipes for combining bi-products from pulp and paper mills with the production of micro-algae. To grow, micro-algae need water, light, carbon dioxide and some of the nutrients found in these bi-products. The algae can be used to make oils, fats and various chemicals. The bi-products can be decomposed into biogas together with the bi-products from the pulp and paper mill’s wastewater. In this process, the algae provide the reactor with valuable nutrients.

Alyssa BlumenthalPhoto credit: Monica Westman“There’s a lot to gain from combining different techniques. At pulp and paper mills there are enormous flows of resources that can be very useful at biogas and biorefineries,” she says.

Sparked interest

Alyssa Blumenthal first came in contact with biogas while on an internship at a lab in Illinois. Her interest sparked, she went online and found the Biogas Research Center, got in touch with the LiU professor Mats Eklund, and successfully applied for a Fulbright scholarship. Since September 2015 she has been a researcher at the centre, and at the Division for Environmental Technology and Management.

“In the States there’s not a lot of talk about biogas, and especially not as a fuel for vehicles,” she says.

Once she became aware of biogas, her interest in it has grown constantly – not just for biogas itself, but also for how it can be a valuable resource in today’s society.

“Initially the biogas reactors were only used to get rid of organic waste at the treatment plants. And in recent years biogas has only been seen as a vehicle fuel, but there are numerous other applications and possibilities for biogas,” she says.

Together with Linda Hagman, doctoral student at the Division for Environmental Technology and Management, Alyssa has devoted the last months of her stay in Sweden to biorefineries, and the possibilities for combining resource flows at pulp and paper mills with resources from the food industry, the oceans and the agricultural sector.

Dare to test her own ideas

“What I have really learnt here is to think and see in systems, and to dare to test my own ideas. In the US, research is a bit more hierarchical – as a young researcher you take part in a professor’s project, but here I’ve been able to run my own project and test my own ideas,” she says.

At first this was a bit daunting. After all, she was a 22-year-old with a bachelor’s degree, coming to a new country, a new university and new colleagues.

“Even if I’m young, my thoughts and ideas are valued here, and the same goes for the doctoral students, and I really appreciate that. It has been both enjoyable and rewarding. After a while I realised I knew more than I thought. It’s great to be able to do more than simply learn stuff – I can make a contribution as well.”

“And I’ve had fantastic support from Mats Eklund, my supervisor.

And Mats Eklund can’t emphasise enough, what a talented young researcher Alyssa Blumenthal is. And that it’s a real shame that she will soon be packing her bags for the trip back across the Atlantic.

“Doing research was completely new for me, and really exciting. Who knows what might happen down the road. But I’ll keep working with issues related to energy supply and environment.”

The Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Commission has an office in Stockholm, where you can apply for scholarships for master’s studies, doctoral studies and research exchanges in the United States.


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