Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to have a career in sustainability?
I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. I finished high school in Indonesia and took a qualifying test to go to medical school in Indonesia, but dropped out after 2 months because I did not like it. I received a full scholarship to study engineering anywhere I desired and chose Iowa State University to study chemical engineering.
I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and worked in the industry for four years, two in Kansas and two in Indonesia. I then decided to go back to Iowa State University to get my Ph.D. In 2000, the biofuel industry was in the spotlight, especially in Iowa because it is an agricultural state that has a large amount of biomass sources. This contributed to my decision to pursue biofuel.
Can you explain your research and what impact it could have on the sustainability movement?
I specialize in the process of producing biofuel, which is a thermochemical process that applies heat on organic materials anaerobically to break down big chains of organic material into smaller chemical in the form of vapor. This vapor is then condensed to produce bio-oil, which can be used to produce gasoline or diesel. One of the byproducts is bio-char, which eventually returns to the soil and supplies it with more nutrition.
As a whole, this is a very complicated process that requires accuracy to attain what we want. It is also more expensive than producing gasoline from crude oil and we are trying to make the process more effective and economical.
What do you think about the future of biofuel as we are moving toward a more sustainable society?
Although there are other forms of renewable energy, biofuel is irreplaceable because it is the only renewable source that we can turn into liquid fuel that is used for transportation.
How does the cultural attitude toward climate change in America compare to that in your hometown in Indonesia?
In general, there is more awareness in Asia and Europe. Also, because America is so large, every course of sustainable action can only have a limited impact on the country as a whole. However, America is using over 20 percent of the world’s energy, and I wish there was more awareness about climate change as well as biofuel in particular.
How do you feel about the university’s commitment to sustainability?
There have been steps taken within the student body and the faculty, but there are a lot of challenges that present themselves when trying to achieve sustainability. I feel that there is more that can be done, especially through education.
What are the most effective ways college students can help the environment in their daily lives?
Starting with small actions is very important and is a great first step. Some examples are do not waste food, reduce your waste in general, take shorter showers, and use reusable mugs and bottles instead of plastic ones. Volunteering in the campus garden and participating in sustainability research and service trips are great ways to help the environment. You can also take courses about sustainability to improve awareness as well as take initiative and start a large project or campaign on sustainability.
Along with students, faculty should be involved as well, as this movement requires effort from every person on campus.
Envision Villanova University fifty years from now. What changes would ideally be made in order to better demonstrate our concern for the environment?
Ideally, there would be a switch to completely renewable resources. It would be ideal to have zero waste, especially food waste, and a way to process waste effectively. Zero emission, using only electric cars is also a beneficial. Planting vegetables for the dining halls is another change that could be made. In general, becoming self-sustaining would be the goal fifty years from now.