Fossil fuels are not only found in everyday products from laptops to hand lotions; they also drive the economy on a global scale.
At the University of Minnesota, associate professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering Jason Hill has emerged as a leader for the exploration of the fossil fuels’ everyday environmental impacts.
Hill said he wants to use his research to find sustainable ways for people to reduce their daily impact on the planet — even though the world is only becoming increasingly populated and hungry for energy.
“It breaks my heart when I hear stories about species that have gone extinct … or entire ecosystems that are destroyed because of human activity,” he said.
Hill said his research has shown that one viable option is to electrify vehicles, which his could help cut down on some fossil fuel usage, like gasoline.
“If you can electrify vehicles, you can essentially prevent tailpipe emissions,” Hill said.
Hill also examines the sustainability of food biosystems, which can produce a wide range of carbon footprints. For example, he said, eating meat requires much more energy and land than other crops do.
Allen Levine, food science and nutrition professor, was the Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences when Hill was hired at the University.
The two got to know each other through discussing Hill’s articles about agriculture and the environment.
Levine said Hill does a great job of analyzing lab and research data to actually look into issues that others just wonder about.
“I would rate him as one of our best young professors at the University,” Levine said. “He has a broad background in terms of his education, and then he’s a good modeler of … complex systems.”
Hill is also known for his innovative courses. He taught one of the first massively online open courses, or MOOCs, at the University. His Coursera-based class enrolled 23,000 students from around the world, though about 1,500 finished, he said.
Levine said the course boosted Hill’s public profile and even gained the Twitter attention of Bill Gates.
Hill has participated in panels and speaks to Congress about the importance and complexity of his work, said Shri Ramaswamy, head of the bioproducts and biosystems engineering department.
“He is very much at the center of environmental lifestyle assessment and sustainability analysis,” Ramaswamy said.
Hill was nationally recognized with his 2012 appointment as a McKnight Land-Grant Professor, which allowed Hill to travel to Oxford, England, to teach a class about food system sustainability.
However, his accolades and international experiences don’t overshadow his main trajectory of charting a sustainable course for the future.
“I want to do what I can to lessen that and to use … renewable resources as much as possible, emitting as little pollution as possible,” Hill said.