An ambitious, University based, USDA sponsored research project investigating
the sustainable production and distribution of bioenergy and
bioproducts for the central U.S.

Getting Our Word Out

Jill Euken Directs Extension and Outreach for CenUSA
Above: Jill Euken Directs Extension and Outreach for CenUSA
Sue Hawkins is Sustainable Agriculture Energy Coordinator for eXtension
Above: Sue Hawkins is Sustainable Agriculture Energy Coordinator for eXtension

CenUSA Bioenergy’s extension and outreach strategy might best be described as “all of the above.” A team of educators, led by Iowa State University’s Jill Euken, translates CenUSA research into materials appropriate for extension educators, students, policy makers, and agricultural and horticultural industry representatives.

“We’re working on a range of science-based educational products with a heavy reliance on new media,” said Jill Euken, CenUSA’s Outreach and Extension Project Director and Deputy Director for the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University.

Much of CenUSA’s learning is delivered online, including instructional videos, webinars, decision support tools, and an e-newsletter distributed bimonthly. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are also part of the mix, along with more traditional fact sheets, research summaries and white papers. Simple evaluations are done to track the effectiveness of the materials.

“We’re providing just-in-time materials, like a nutrient calculator that helps the user optimize crop yield while minimizing nutrient leaching, said Euken. “Our online materials are archived so they have long-lasting impact.”

A partnership with eXtension, Extension’s national internet-based learning network, has brought additional reach to CenUSA’s educational efforts. The eXtension’s Farm Energy Community of Practice provides a place where land grant university researchers collaborate to develop objective, research based bioenergy informational resources. See link:

“Today there are more than 15,000 people who have signed up for an eXtension account,” said Sue Hawkins, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator for eXtension at the University of Vermont and team member, CenUSA extension and outreach. “We offer a way of getting credible information out to the public that spans across the usual state borders.”

In addition to practical, informative material for agriculture, CenUSA is developing materials aimed at middle and high school students. This summer Extension youth specialists at Iowa State and Purdue Universities will design a mobile app for smart phones and an iBook curriculum for classroom iPads. The new app will be designed in the style of Farmville, the Facebook game that allows players to plow, plant and harvest crops and trees. The app will allow players to plant crops and perennial bioenergy grasses that maximize environmental benefits and profits. The iBook curriculum, which will be designed by a former high school teacher and a summer student intern, will give teachers a visually rich, multi-touch tool for teaching about sustainable bioenergy cropping systems.

Also this summer, CenUSA will sponsor farmer-led “citizen science” field days in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana, showcasing perennial grass plots grown on marginal lands. Master gardeners at the University of Minnesota and at Iowa State University will continue testing the impact of biochar, a carbon rich soil amendment and byproduct of pyrolysis, on vegetable and flower gardens.

Over the next two years, CenUSA’s outreach will include working closely with industries and facilities that plan to take delivery of perennial grass feedstock and convert them to drop in biofuels and bioproducts. “We are hopeful that in the next two years, one of our industry partners will be building a biorefinery in the Midwest that could use CenUSA switchgrass, said Euken. “Initial tests have shown that plant based renewable chemicals can be price competitive with petroleum products, but are greener and have a much lower carbon footprint.”

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