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KU bio4energy seBio4Energy researcher Kentaro Umeki has won a Gunnar Öquist Fellowship 2016, which grants him funds and the mentorship of well-respected Swedish plant physiologist Gunnar Öquist. Photo by courtesy of Kentaro Umeki.Bio4Energy researcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., recruited into Bio4Energy in 2011 and placed at the Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in northern Sweden, last week received an award named for the well-respected Swedish scientist Gunnar Öquist, who is a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and a plant physiologist the Umeå Plant Science Centre.

Funding body the Kempe Foundations supports the fellowship and awards it on an annual basis for the purpose of "supporting young researchers early in their career", according to a press release from the LTU. The Gunnar Öquist Fellowship consists of a SEK3 million (€310,000) kroner award to be used for research activities, as well as a personal prize of SEK50,000 kroner, and the mentorship for three years of professor emeritus Öquist. For the third time since the awarding of the fellowship started five years ago, it goes to a Bio4Energy scientist. Previous Bio4Energy awardees are Judith Felten and Edouard Pesquet, both of the research and development platform Bio4Energy Feedstock.

"It feels great! It’s a confidence boost and some kind of sign that the LTU believes in me. It shows that I grew in the last five years", Umeki said.

He is an expert on soot formation in biomass gasification and combustion processes and part of the R&D platform Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies. More specifically, Umeki's work is focused on the way in which carbon-containing biomass-based feedstock reacts once it is inside a gasification or combustion reactor, in the process of converting the feedstock to another product, such as synthesis gas for upgrading to biofuel. 

"It's about how we can control the flows in the reactor and how we can reduce or increase the solid or liquid product. We try to actively control what is happening inside", Umeki said. He added that not many other research groups in the world approached the area of biomass gasification in this way.

Perhaps this unique approach—designed to assist industry in the sector improve their processes in a hands-on way, all the while performing high-caliber scientific research—is what the Kempe Foundations and Gunnar Öquist found set Umeki's research apart. According to the LTU press release, the prize motivation said;

"Kentaro Umeki has shown great ability to combine high-level academic research with practical application. Born in 1982 in Miyazaki, Japan, he obtained his PhD degree in 2010 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Environmental Science and Technology. He has been a visiting researcher in Korea and Australia and carried out his postdoctoral studies at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, before being employed in 2011 as an assistant professor at the Luleå University of Technology, where today he is a doctor and an associate professor in Energy Technology. Kentaro directs a laboratory and coordinates research for the thermal conversion [of biomass] at the division of Energy Sciences…". (Ed's note: Translation from Swedish into English by Bio4Energy Communications.)

Apart from being grateful for the additional funds, which would go toward the purchase of new laboratory equipment and salary for a postdoctoral researcher, Umeki said he was grateful for the opportunity to have Öquist as a mentor.

"This opportunity to talk with Gunnar is something really nice about this prize. I think I will learn about how to position myself" in contacts with industry and society, Umeki said.

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