Overview of ABE

ABE building with sculpture outside

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) is part of two colleges at the University of Illinois; the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and The Grainger College of Engineering. This means our students are able to utilize resources and connect with faculty in both colleges.

Our Degree Programs:

The undergraduate and graduate programs in ABE at Illinois have been consistently ranked as among the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” publication. The undergraduate program has been in one of the top three spots for the last ten years, including five years as number one. The graduate program has held a top three spot for the same period, including two years as number one.

Enrollment in both the undergraduate and graduate programs has doubled in the last decade. The department offers two concentrations, one in agricultural engineering and one in biological engineering. A master’s program in technical systems management (TSM) was established in 2011.

The department has also developed two Professional Science Master’s (PSM) concentrations in recent years. The PSM is a graduate degree designed to allow students to pursue advanced training in science or mathematics, while simultaneously developing workplace skills highly valued by employers. The PSM  in technical systems management prepares graduates for both technical and leadership careers in the management of agricultural and biological technical systems.

The second PSM in bioenergy centers on advanced and innovative methods of energy production and is a key component of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL). IBRL came under the umbrella of ABE in 2016, and our faculty’s expertise in energy and sustainability and commitment to research and development helps create a scientific and technical workforce in bioenergy and related biosciences.

Our Research:

Research in the department continues to be extensive and impactful, and research dollars come from multiple and diverse sources. Past funding from companies such as BP provided millions of dollars to study biomass production and provision engineering, and the department continues to work with the Archer Daniels Midland Institute to conduct significant research in postharvest loss, particularly in an ongoing collaboration with Brazil and India.

Current research projects are being funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The NSF grant funds INFEWS-ER, a virtual resource center enabling graduate innovations at the nexus of food, energy and water systems. The USAID grant funds the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium, an effort to address global hunger and food security issues in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia.

Each research group continues in the development of their ongoing projects. Soil and water works in drainage, hydrology, and water quality and their impact on the environment. Food and bioprocess engineering continues to address the challenges of ethanol and alternative biofuel production. Bioenvironmental engineering is developing a process that will use biowaste such as swine manure to grow algal biomass and produce biofuels. They have also established a strong program in animal welfare and livestock production engineering. The Biological Engineering group has exciting activities in synthetic biology, biosystems engineering, and bioinstrumentation. Our Off-Road Equipment engineering researchers are making strides in autonomous systems, precision agriculture, as well as safety and health.

The department also makes a considerable contribution to the University of Illinois Extension and Outreach. Our Extension faculty and specialists work to improve the environment and the lives of individuals by providing research based, practical education to the community. ABE Extension specialties include safety and health, sustainable livestock production  with farmers on livestock waste management, air quality control in livestock facilities, and environmental stewardship.

Our Mission:

The mission of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is to integrate life and engineering for enhancement of complex living systems. Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Strategic Plan, 2006

The distinction of being ranked the best undergraduate department in our field did not come without a clear vision of what it takes to achieve and maintain excellence in teaching, research and outreach. We plan to continue these land grant functions and build on past success as our Department transforms into a future bio-based engineering and technology leader.

This holistic approach of integrating biology and engineering is explained in detail in two documents, the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Strategic Intent, and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Strategic Plan.

Strategic Intent outlines the values, vision and mission of the Department, as well as the goals we believe will fulfill our mission, and how we will measure success in those areas.

The Strategic Plan is a more comprehensive document that details the ACESys paradigm (Automation-Culture-Environment-Systems Core Competencies) and the Department’s planning strategy. It also expands on the areas of strategic goals (addressing issues that will allow us to continue to produce science-based outcomes of high and sustained impact), and strategic initiatives (providing leadership in exploring specific technical areas relevant to our discipline). Ways to maintain and upgrade our facilities, and methods for generating revenues to enhance our programs and advance our goals are also addressed.

The College of ACES’ vision is to be “globally preeminent and locally relevant.” The Grainger College of Engineering strives to be “the standard of excellence by which all other engineering schools measure themselves.” As part of the College of ACES and the The Grainger College of Engineering, the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering is positioned to contribute to the vision of both in a significant way. Strategic Intent and Strategic Plan will help you understand why.