All course information is listed within this syllabus.

ABE 884: Biomass Energy Systems (3 credits). In the coming decades biomass will play an increasing role in satisfying society's energy and material needs, providing a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. This course will cover the fundamental theories and applied technologies used in production and conversion of biomass into transportation fuels, heat, power, electricity, chemicals and other value-added products. Prerequisites: None. However, students should have a background in introductory chemistry, thermodynamics, and/or core technical courses in iMPS RESS program. Students unsure of their readiness for ABE 884 should contact the instructor.


Instructor for ABE 884

Dzidzor Essien, Ph.D.
iMPS-RESS Graduate Teaching Faculty

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University

Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:30 - 4:00 p.m. EST

Questions emailed before 2:30 will be answered by 4:00 p.m. during office hours. You can, however, email me at any time you need my assistance with course-related issues and I will do my best to respond within 48 hrs.

Course Overview

This course will cover the fundamental theories and applied technologies used in production and conversion of biomass into transportation fuels, heat, power, electricity, chemicals and other value-added products. Production strategies focus on sustainable cropping systems, harvest, storage, and pretreatment for diverse biomass feedstocks.

Conversion technologies covered include ethanol fermentation, biodiesel catalysis, combustion, pyrolysis, gasification, and anaerobic digestion. System analysis will address environmental impacts, policy, and economics.

Instructional Objectives

  1. Develop a fundamental understanding of the biology, chemistry, and thermodynamic basis of biomass energy systems.
  2. Understand the production technologies required for herbaceous and woody energy crops as well as agricultural and forest byproducts.
  3. Develop detailed knowledge of the technologies, benefits, and tradeoffs of various thermochemical and biological energy conversion strategies.
  4. Assess the environmental impacts and understand the policy and economic context of biomass energy systems.
  5. Locate and utilize appropriate theory and information for design and analysis of biomass energy systems.

Course Goals

  1. Demonstrate self-initiation and motivational attributes in seeking and applying knowledge and information in a way that aids individual learning style/progress
  2. Develop a productive and healthy peer-peer relationship; engage in meaningful discussions with colleagues, showing respect for colleagues and their opinions
  3. Create networking opportunities that can be beneficial in future
  4. Disciplined and ethical conduct in approach to assignments and project accomplishment
  5. Be informed on current happenings in the bioenergy industry

Course Schedule

For due dates, refer to the Course Summary on the Syllabus page in Canvas.

Course Materials


  • *Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture, 2nd Edition, by Robert C. Brown, 2014, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 978-1118524954

*E-Book Option: An online version of this text is available at no cost as a Penn State Library E-Book. You can access the E-Book through the Library Resources link on the course navigation. Some E-Books will only be available online, while others will be available to download in full or in part. You may choose to use the E-Book as an alternative to purchasing a physical copy of the text. For questions or issues, you can contact the University Libraries Reserve Help (UL-RESERVESHELP@LISTS.PSU.EDU).

Additional course readings and materials will be available within some Modules.

Course E-Reserves:

  • This course requires that you access Penn State library materials specifically reserved for this course. To access these materials, use the Library Resources link on the left navigation menu. The materials will be listed alphabetically.

Grading Policy

Students in this course will be required to participate in several activities designed to help develop their knowledge, understanding, and ability to apply the principles of innovative biomass energy systems. Evaluation of each student's mastery of the subject matter and ability to communicate their understanding will be based on performance in the classroom, written problem sets and reports, exams, and a design project.

Several assessment methods will be used to evaluate student performance. Numerical grades will be assigned in each of the categories described below, and then those grades will be weighted by the percentages and summed for a final grade.

Grading Criteria
Requirement Cumulative Point Value Weight
Quizzes 65 15%
Homework Assignments 80 20%
Lab Report 40 10%
Case Studies 28 7%
Participation 60 15%
Graded Discussions 32 8%
Design Project 100 25%
TOTAL: 405 100%
Grading Scheme
Letter Grade Percentage Points
A 100% – 90% > 359
B < 90% – 80% 320–359
C < 80% – 70% 280–319
D < 70% – 60% 240–279
F < 60% < 240

Please refer to the University Grading Policy for Graduate Courses for additional information.

NOTE: If you are planning to graduate this semester, please communicate your intent to graduate to your instructor. This will alert your instructor to the need to submit your final grade in time to meet the published graduation deadlines. For more information about graduation policies and deadlines, please see "Graduation" under World Campus Student Resources.

Policy for Completion of Course Requirements

These learning opportunities are in addition to opportunities provided through class lectures, videos, required and recommended readings.

Weekly Discussions

The weekly discussion (Peer-to-peer learning and support network) and biweekly bioenergy news are learning opportunities created in addition to opportunities provided through class lectures, videos, required and recommended readings.

There are a number of suggested bioenergy news sites on the Activity pages in each module. You are not obligated to use any of these sites. The weekly news can cover any area of interest to you: policy/legislation, sustainability, economics, debates, opinions, new technologies, awards, etc. You do not have to restrict yourself to the news of the week; you can discuss/comment on other recent news items within the year that you find interesting

What does peer-to-peer learning and support network mean?

The discussion forum is a forum for you to comment on each week's module and actively engage in discussion with your peers in the course. If you have any material, a link or even an experience that you deem appropriate, you can share it here, you can also ask questions and discuss sections of the modules that may not be too clear or that you are having trouble with.

The Peer-to-peer learning and support network will be beneficial only if you all actively participate in the discussions.

Homework Assignments

Homework and reports are due before 11:59 PM EST on the date indicated on the Syllabus page. Do not wait until the last minute to submit your work, as there are sometimes technical difficulties that will slow down your submission process. Late work will not be accepted after one week from the due date (as assigned). All assigned activities will be penalized 15% for each day (or fraction thereof) late.


Quizzes will be conducted through Canvas and can be taken any day of the week. However, apart from the Module 1 quiz, all other quiz sessions are timed. The time for each quiz will be indicated on each quiz. The last quiz for the semester is optional and can be taken for extra credit.

Late quizzes will be accepted ONLY IF valid justification is provided and I am notified prior to the date and time of the quiz. Valid justification is a statement indicating illness, obituary notice (death in the family or loved one), etc.

Design Project

You can start working on your final project about halfway through the course. Details on developing project topics, selection of topics, group assignments, expectations, specific evaluation criteria can be found in the Design Project Module at the end of all Modules.

Oral [video-conferencing] presentations of final projects will usually be done in the final week of class. We can consider weekend presentations as well if that works better for some students.

Online Students Use of the Library

As Penn State World Campus students, you have access to many of the materials that the library offers to students. The library website has a lot to offer, but can be overwhelming. A guide has been created to serve as your introduction to important library resources, services, and important pages within the library. The Online Student Library Guide is updated regularly by the online librarian and is intended to provide a level of comfort through an introduction to help you feel comfortable navigating the library website to find valuable information for your coursework.

Technical Requirements

This course is offered online and it is assumed you possess the minimum system requirements and computing skills to participate effectively. A list of technical requirements is listed on World Campus' Penn State Technical Requirements page.

Minimum Skills

  • You should have an understanding of basic computer usage (creating folders/directories, switching between programs, formatting and backing up media, accessing the internet).
  • You must be able to conduct word processing tasks such as creating, editing, saving, and retrieving documents.
  • You must be able to use a web browser to open web pages, download files, and search the internet.
  • You must be able to use an e-mail program to send and receive messages and to attach and download documents/files.
  • You must be able to download and install programs or plug-ins from the internet.

Getting Help With Canvas Courses

Canvas support is available 24/7 via chat or phone.

It is in your own best interest to be as specific as you possibly can. Try to include information such as the specific course page, quiz question, etc. you were on; what you attempted to do when that failed; the exact language of any error message displayed on your screen; the date and time when your problem occurred; and any other pertinent information (does the problem happen consistently and always in the same way, etc.).

Support Services

As a student, you have access to a variety of services and resources, including advising, tutoring, library services, career services, and more. Please visit the following resources for more information:

Accessibility Information


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and discussion postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of messages. Please review Virginia Shea's "The Core Rules of Netiquette" for general guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course.

Penn State Policies

Login Policy

Students are expected to log in regularly to keep up to date with announcements, discussions, etc. The class will progress at a regular pace throughout the semester and there are specific due dates and times for assignments, etc.

Course Availability

Your course will be available to you beginning the first day of class and will remain open for one year. After one year the course will close.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, students should act with personal integrity, respect other students' dignity, rights, and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others (see Faculty Senate Policy 49-20, G-9 Procedures, and the Code of Conduct).

Please read the academic integrity guidelines for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

A lack of knowledge or understanding of the University's academic integrity policy and the types of actions it prohibits and/or requires does not excuse one from complying with the policy. Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences take violations of academic integrity very seriously. Faculty, alumni, staff, and fellow students expect each student to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity both inside and outside of the classroom.

Educational Equity Statement

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated and can be reported through Educational Equity at the Report Bias page.

Privacy Policies

For information about Penn State's privacy statement and what it encompasses, please read their Web Privacy Statement. Visit Penn State's FERPA Guidelines for Faculty and Staff page for information regarding its rules governing the privacy of student educational records.

Copyright Notice

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor's express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD40, Recording of Classroom Activities and Note-Taking Services, addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University's Code of Conduct, and/or liable under federal and state laws.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being. The University offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients' cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Accommodations for Persons With Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources page.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus' disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Accommodations for Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Use of Trade Names

Where trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by World Campus, Outreach and Cooperative Extension, the College of Agricultural Sciences, or The Pennsylvania State University is implied.

Subject to Change Statement

Please note that this Course Syllabus is subject to change. Students are responsible for abiding by such changes.

Course Availability

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