Fats and Oils Program receives industry support for teaching and targeted short courses

April 8, 2019
| By: Dr. Joya Mannan

Dr. Mohammad Alam, head of the Fats and Oils Program at the Process Engineering Research and Development Center (PERDC), has received a grant from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board to fund several semesters of teaching and short courses about the significance of dietary oils and fats as essential sources of energy. Similar programs exist at other universities, but PERDC’s labs and pilot plants provide a truly hands-on experience that short course attendees and students will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. 

Short courses like Alam’s are often largely teaching focused, so his incorporation of lab practicals introduces a new element that is enticing to industry representatives who recognize academic programs as a vital part of workforce development. “Certainly teaching is important,” Alam assured, “but a lot of industrial training can only be communicated effectively through practicals and equipment demonstrations, and our labs serve that purpose extremely well.”

Funding from the palm oil industry is especially noteworthy because the Food and Drug Administration instructed the food industry to eliminate trans fats from food production by July 2018. Palm oil has since been a preferred replacement oil for food manufacturers. As a result, Alam believes industry support for the Fats and Oils Program positions Texas A&M at the forefront of new technology and innovation.

“We are also doing a lot of work with biodiesel,” Alam said. “Any kind of oil can be used to produce biodiesel. That includes palm oil, soybean oil, non-edible oils or even used cooking oils.” The latter, especially, is where Alam’s focus lies. By collecting used cooking oil from local restaurants, he hopes the Fats and Oils Program will one day be able to produce biodiesel efficiently enough to fuel the Texas A&M buses. 

In addition to the opportunity to assist with cutting-edge research, students in the Fats and Oils Program can also be involved with industry projects. Large companies commission the PERDC to help with smaller projects at times, and short course attendees often have the chance to participate in the production process. The focus on practical experiences and interactions is why PERDC short courses can boast successfully training thousands of people around the world.

The short courses often feature guest lectures and interactions with top industry and technical staff. As a result, seating is limited in order to maximize the learning experience. Alam’s short course, “Trends in Margarine and Shortening Manufacture, Non-Trans Products,” runs from May 12-16. Registration is open through May 14.

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