Advanced Fuels

Mission Statement

The Advanced Fuels Center at MSU-Northern strive to innovate technologies to create Montana-grown sustainable fuels and products. It is the only research facility in the State that has the capability to conduct comprehensive studies on advanced fuels and additives, from fuel development to real-time emission monitoring.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities 

The Center provides opportunities to undergraduate students for them to be part of the growing technical and scientific community developing sustainable, environmentally-friendly fuels, additives, and products. Students can gain hands-on experience in conducting scientific research and operating state-of-the-art laboratory instruments as well as presenting their research in international technical conferences.

Current Projects

Sustainable High-Value Lubricant Improver From Wet Unhydrolyzed Solids ($467,104 | USDA-NIFA)

Project Leader: Randy Maglinao, PhD | MSU-Northern, Havre, MT

Co-PI: Sandeep Kumar, PhD | Old Dominion University, VA

Award Number: 2019-67022-29947

Project Summary: Lignocellulosic ethanol biorefineries offers a sustainable way to produce alternative fuels and provide fiber and biomaterial, but lignin fraction remains underutilized in the absence of development of high-value products. Thermochemical processes can depolymerize lignin into its phenolic monomers which could be utilized as sustainable high-value additive products. To achieve maximum yield of additive products, we propose that lignin must be first decomposed into high concentration of phenol and alkylphenols then selectively transform these phenolic derivatives into a compound with a chemical structure fit for its purpose. Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of wet unhydrolyzed solids (UHS), a by-product of lignocellulosic ethanol production, generates a bio-oil with 98% phenolic compounds which more than half of it are phenol and alkylphenols. This phenolic bio-oil can be upgraded into aromatic hydrocarbons via hydrodeoxygenation then selectively converted into a lubricant improver by alkylation with fatty acid methyl esters. This lignin-based product has the chemical structure that makes the product suitable lubricant improver, an additive that improves lubricity of fuels and lubricants. This arrangement of reactions allows to utilize lignin and develop new products adding value to lignocellulosic ethanol.

This collaborative research aims to develop and employ a sequence of reactions to selectively transform wet UHS into a sustainable lubricant improver. Analysis of the reaction mechanisms and kinetics, such as alkylphenol hydrodeoxygenation and aromatic alkylation, and evaluation of the overall process life cycle will help to understand how to synthesize sustainable lignin-based lubricant improver and how to integrate this process to the production of lignocellulosic ethanol.

Renewable Diesel in Underground Mining ($60,000 | Montana-INBRE)

Project Leader: Randy Maglinao, PhD | MSU-Northern, Havre, MT

Co-PI: Tony Gryffin, PhD | MSU-Northern, Havre, MT

Grant Number: P20GM103474

Project Summary: Underground metal and nonmetal mine operators predominantly use diesel to power their equipment and vehicles. Several strategies have been implemented to reduce miner’s exposure to diesel particulate matter (DPM), which is known to cause adverse health problems. Diesel particulate filters are utilized to reduce the release of DPM, and exhaust gas recirculation techniques are adopted to minimize nitrogen dioxide emissions. Operators have also considered replacing diesel with biodiesel to significantly lower DPM, to avoid frequent cleaning of diesel particulate filters. However, the challenges of handling biodiesel discouraged operators from using it and led them to recognize the need to find an alternative such as renewable diesel. Moreover, evaluating fuels on the sole basis of reducing DPM emissions becomes insufficient, considering that the emission concentration of other harmful gases and aerosols remain unchanged when shifting from diesel to biodiesel. To protect the health of metal and nonmetal underground miners from harmful diesel exhaust emission exposure, the proposed project aims to: (1)  Establish a new emission test cycle specific for underground mining application, (2) Shift the current procedure of using DPM emissions as a sole criterion in evaluating alternative fuels, (3) Enhance adoption of recommended procedures through  behavioral assessments for developing measurable targeted messages, communication tools, and a wellness champion program, (4) Enhance education and research experiences of students from technology and community health programs. To accomplish these goals, undergraduate students will be hired and mentored to conduct the scientific research needed for the project. An AVL SESAM-FTIR Emission Analyzer and AVL 483 Microsoot Sensor Measuring Unit will be utilized to quantify the chemical composition of diesel exhaust emissions, including other gases such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. The engine will be coupled with an AVL DynoRoad A/C Dynamometer to accurately replicate the conditions of underground mine engines. The dynamometer will be also used to evaluate a new emission test cycle which will be developed from this project. A mixed methods approach will be used to address facilitators and barriers to enhance adherence to relevant health and safety protocols, and recommendations for a wellness champion program. Lastly, the information generated will be incorporated in classes and will be shared with the underground mining industry and scientific community. Overall, the proposed project will create innovative strategies for safer underground mining practices.

Engine Testing & Fuel Development

Engine Performance and Emission

The Center uses a 525 kW (704 hp) AVL A/C Dynamometer to conduct steady-state and transient engine test runs.  With the A/C dynamometer’s low mass inertia, we are able to conduct routine transient test runs. We use an integrated engine testing automation system to control our engine test-bed and to ensure test-retest reliability. With constantly changing regulations on engine exhaust emissions, emission monitoring has become a vital component of every engine performance testing.  Our highly sophisticated emission equipment allows for real-time measurements of 32 different gases including EPA regulated emissions.

Sustainable Fuels and Additives

The Advanced Fuels Center houses six state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities and serve as the primary research and development arm of Montana State University-Northern (MSUN) in the field of sustainable fuels and additive development. The laboratories include Fuel Chemistry Lab, Kiewit Oil Analysis Lab, Biomass Conversion Lab, Sustainable Fuels Pilot Plant, Oilseed Pressing Facilities and Engine Performance and Emissions Lab.

Program Photo & Video

Program Shot

Advanced Fuels

Faculty & Staff




Randy Maglinao, Ph.D.
Senior Research Assistant|  (406) 265-5921

Office: Brockmann Center 104P


Evan Davison
Undergraduate Research Assistant