Utah State University
Biochemistry (Undergrad)

Mike Morgan uses a lot of yeast in his studies, but he’s not training to become a baker. He’s opening new doors for biodiesel.

In 2008, Morgan began volunteering in a biodiesel lab at Utah State University. Working to create biodiesel from microalgae, Morgan became hooked on the alternative fuel. As the project progressed, the team began creating biodiesel from yeast as well. The group was the first to compare and characterize biodiesels from microalgae, yeast, and bacteria to petroleum diesel.

In 2012, Morgan, an avid racing fan, cruised across the Bonneville Salt Flats in a small racecar powered by yeast biodiesel. Soon after, Morgan helped create a public awareness campaign to gain attention for the power that their biodiesel car was packing. In ten weeks, the team had built the car to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats. On the first run, the biodiesel car set a speed record, and they returned in 2013 to set another record with algae biodiesel.

Speaking about his experience at the 2014 National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, Morgan said, “As the roar subsided, I unbuckled my belts, removed my helmet, and could smell the exhaust that was akin to baking bread. I knew something special had just happened. We had proven you can successfully create biodiesel from microorganisms!”

His successful results were published in Energy & Fuels.

As an active spokesman for biodiesel and co-chair of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel, Morgan hopes to give others the opportunity to approach biodiesel as a sustainable lifestyle effort.

“We are blazing new frontiers here in our lab due to our choice of microbial strains for biodiesel,” said Morgan. “We are adding to biodiesel’s diversity with a potential new product source.”

Morgan is also active in the “Freeways to Fuels” program, initiated by USU researcher Dallas Hanks. Morgan works on a team investigating use of land at the Salt Lake City International Airport to grow safflower and other crops for biodiesel. The project, a partnership with USU, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the airport, has a secondary goal of reducing rodents in fields surrounding the busy air traffic hub — by growing plants the animals don’t like to eat — and thereby deter predatory birds from entering the area’s airspace.

“Each of these opportunities has ingrained in me an absolute love of biodiesel,” Morgan said. “It has helped me to approach sustainability as a lifetime effort. I have helped dispel countless misconceptions about biodiesel and its capabilities through these opportunities.”

Morgan has attended the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo on a scholarship and was featured in Biodiesel Magazine. His future plans include co-product development and low-temperature hydrothermal-liquefaction.

“My goal is to continue biodiesel research throughout my graduate education and into industry, leaving a positive impact for generations to come,” he said.

Email Mike Morgan