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Fueling a Better Future

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Lots of students wonder where college will take them. Clarkson helped Kyle Hancock conduct research and study close to home in Vermont, while also helping him reach some of the world’s most advanced institutions, including Brookhaven National Lab, Stanford’s Linear Accelerator, the Technical University of Denmark and, of course, the world-class laboratories here at Clarkson.

After being recognized with an Honorable Mention from the Goldwater Scholarship Program, Kyle is wondering where he will take the rest of the world.

“Clarkson has given me the opportunity to work on a project making gasoline economically — without using fossil fuels,” he says. The project involves liquefying biomass and turning it into oil. It is the culmination of Kyle’s years of research in chemical engineering.

“Biomass simply refers to anything that was once alive, but isn’t now. We have to heat it — between 450- to 550-degrees Celsius — very quickly, within two seconds. This process is called pyrolysis and we know how to do it. We’re now working on the last phase, which is optimizing or refining the oil we produce. Then, we can turn grass, trees — even city garbage — into fuel. You could put it in your car’s gas tank. But, unlike the gas we’ve been using, gasoline from biomass won’t add any new carbon into our atmosphere. This will be an alternative to the fossil fuels we’re now using for transportation.”

Kyle says there’s one clear reason why he’s been able to work with some of the world’s top researchers:

“It’s because of Clarkson,” he says. “Specifically, it’s because I started research projects my first year. And I was able to work with my professors. This is a small university, but it has all the resources you need — from really accomplished and knowledgeable faculty to the advanced labs.”

And then Kyle saw a different side of the University.

“Clarkson has this reputation as the place where everybody works really hard,” he says. “That’s true, by the way. But it’s also really flexible. I went to another country — for a year — without delaying my graduation or disrupting any of my scholarships. That took me places I hadn’t even considered visiting just a couple years ago.”

He’s set to graduate in May. So what’s next?

“I want to change the world,” he says. “Clarkson gave me the tools I needed and opened the doors that will help me do it.”

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Kyle Z. Hancock '14