Universities in São Paulo create a joint doctorate in bioenergy

7By Frances Jones
Agência FAPESP – The three leading São Paulo State universities are currently jointly preparing a landmark doctoral program in bioenergy. “We are organizing an excellent program in bioenergy, in which students will have the opportunity to study different aspects of the sector with top specialists and to connect with major research centers in the field worldwide,” explained Professor Carlos Alberto Labate from Universidade de São Paulo (USP), who is the general coordinator of the Integrated Doctoral Program in Bioenergy. The classes should begin in early March 2014.
Planned as an international course, the program will have professors from USP, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) and Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp). The program will also have the better part of its classes in English and will use a videoconference system to integrate students and professors located in other cities.
“The students will do at least a four-month internship abroad at a university, company or research center, and we want to attract not only students from Brazil but also from abroad,” highlights Labate.
The justifications for uniting forces on this project are not lacking. According to Labate, bioenergy is one of the most expanding areas worldwide, and Brazil is a leader. “We have competency and a large market and are the main producers of raw materials in the bioenergy field. Qualified personnel are lacking, even for spin-offs, because one of the things that we want is for our students to be entrepreneurs in the bioenergy area.”
The Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (CAPES) approved the opening of the program at the end of March.
In the opinion of Luís Augusto Barbosa Cortez, a professor at the Agricultural Engineering School (Feagri) at Unicamp and an adjunct coordinator of Special Programs at FAPESP, which is part of the executive commission for the Integrated Doctoral Program in Bioenergy, one innovative aspect of the initiative is the participation of “three of the five best universities in Brazil.”
“The critical mass of the three universities is very large. A study conducted by FAPESP found that approximately 500 researchers from the three institutions work directly or indirectly in the bioenergy area,” he said.
Cortez cited the example of a study conducted by Fernando Ferreira Costa, a professor at Unicamp’s Medical Science School who studies an enzyme produced by termites that is capable of degrading cellulose. “There are already many researchers from diverse schools, like medical schools, that have worked or are working with something related to biofuel, bioenergy, chemical products, plastics or biomass derivatives,” he said.
The joint doctorate in bioenergy is the result of another initiative, the São Paulo Bioenergy Research Center (CPPB), created in 2010 through a partnership between the São Paulo State Government, FAPESP, USP, Unicamp and Unesp.
Created as one of the offshoots of the FAPESP Program for Bioenergy Research (BIOEN), the CPPB increases the scientific research base in energy obtained from biomass. Whereas universities will hire researchers from several bioenergy areas, FAPESP will select and finance projects connected to the CPPB.
“The course is one of the important outcomes of the São Paulo Bioenergy Research Center (CPPB) and the three São Paulo universities, with a meaningful investment from the São Paulo State government. The multi-institutional character is an excellent idea and will make the course globally competitive,” stressed Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP Scientific Director.
The face of the 21st century
In the Integrated Doctoral Program in Bioenergy, the disciplines will be organized into five main areas: agriculture, industry, sustainability, biorefineries and motors. According to Cortez, although Brazil is a leader in bioenergy, professionals are lacking in certain areas, such as motors.
Another area with a lack of professionals is the gasification and combustion field. “We went largely toward the fermentation side, in the biochemistry area (when we talk about second-generation ethanol), but very little toward the thermal side,” explained Cortez.
One of the objectives of the course is to give students a general panorama and broad training so that professionals understand the diverse factors involved in the bioenergy question.
“This area is very dynamic; we need a professional who understands the different areas and participates actively in the questions. S/he must speak English well and have a good notion of the diplomacy linked to the subjects, which are being discussed in international forums, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Labor Organization,” said Cortez.
Certain bureaucratic questions about the course, which will be free, are still being discussed. The curriculum, number of courses and transfer of credits have been defined. Students should be registered at one of the three institutions and will be formally linked to that institution. Each of the universities will conduct a selection of students using their own criteria and will choose the faculty that will participate in the program. The general coordination of the course, which is currently being shouldered by USP, will change every three years in a rotation among the three universities.
The idea is for each mentor to have two or three mentees and for the program to have 100 students in two or three years. “It is a course with the face of the 21st century. The subject of biofuels has gained phenomenal importance of late. Even the United States, which thought that Brazil was pursuing an oddity and exotic curiosity, has joined in. Afterward, the whole world began to discuss the subject,” explained Cortez.
According to Labate, the hope is to integrate other Brazilian groups of excellence into the doctoral program over time, including several of the federal universities.
The official site for the course is still under construction, but the temporary webpage is http://genfis40.esalq.usp.br/pg_bio.
Source and Photo: Agência FAPESP, 22nd May, 2013
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