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7th Annual Southern Bioproducts & Renewable Energy Conference

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Essay by Emily Dickens

$1,000 Scholarship Recipient

Mississippi Biomass Council Scholarship Recipient Platform

Research of new applications for biomass is important in the development of renewable and environmentally friendly products. Questions about the sustainability of petroleum reserves and the effects of petrochemical-based products on the environment have prompted the move towards exploring avenues of enhancing the use of natural products in our daily lives. These efforts have resulted in the development and commercial use of natural derivatives such as biodiesel, bioethanol, plastics derived from crops, vegetable oil derivative-based coatings and plastics, and soybean protein-based composites that offer environmentally-responsible alternatives to petrochemical derivatives and environmental threats of pollution and limited landfill space.

I am currently a junior in the Polymer Science program in the University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss). I also work part-time in the Thames-Rawlins Research Group (TRRG) at Southern Miss where I am involved in the development of formaldehyde-free particleboards. Commercial particleboards employ urea-formaldehyde resin as the adhesive and emit formaldehyde over their service lives. Formaldehyde causes adverse reactions in humans even at low concentrations, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. The TRRG has developed particleboards that employ a soybean protein-based adhesive as the sole binder and the resulting boards are totally free of synthetic formaldehyde precursors. My research experience has motivated me to pursue a career in biomass technology and develop affordable biomass material options for the consumer.

I am a single mother of two young children and am committed to ensuring a proper education for myself and my family. My financial resources are limited to governmental assistance (food stamps and child care assistance) and the income from working part-time at Southern Miss. Needless to say, I am constantly trying to make ends meet and any financial assistance would be greatly welcomed.