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Bioeconomy Institute

Bioeconomy Institute

2009 Annual Report

2009 Annual Report

Bioeconomy Institute Mission


The Bioeconomy Institute will

By 2012, the Bioeconomy Institute

advance the use of biorenewable

will be internationally recognized

2 ���Mission/Vision

resources for the production of

for its highly collaborative, mission-

3 ���Letter from the Director

chemicals, fuels, materials, and

oriented programs that integrate

energy, while moving toward

strengths in both basic and applied

economic, environmental, and

research in biorenewables. The

social sustainability.

institute will also be the preferred

Table of Contents

4 ���Facilities 8 ���Research 14 ���Education 20 ���Outreach 28 ���Organization 30 ���Metrics


source of professionals for the growing bioeconomy and a national leader in biorenewables-related outreach and continuing education.

Robert C. Brown Director

Letter from the Director The Bioeconomy Institute (BEI) was much preoccupied with construction projects the past year. The BioCentury Research Farm (BCRF) was completed last spring. This $18 million off-campus facility, six miles west of the Iowa State campus, integrates research in field-scale biomass production and harvesting with pilot-scale biomass processing. Some of the new occupants of the BCRF are profiled in this report. The Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL) is still under construction but will be completed in spring 2010. This $32 million project was fully funded by the state of Iowa as an investment in advanced biofuels and other biobased products. We are proud and excited about this new facility, which will house an eclectic mix of researchers in the biochemical, catalytic, and thermal sciences working on fundamental and applied problems in biorenewables. You will notice that the BRL construction site is the backdrop of many of the photographs in this report. Affiliated faculty and staff were also busy this past year constructing proposals. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included funds for research, and the BEI proposal services office was bombarded with “Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA),” as the federal agencies call their solicitations. We responded to many of these FOAs, the outcomes of which we will save for next year’s annual report. This year’s report focuses on more immediate accomplishments. We transformed our annual biorenewables conference at Iowa State into an “eConference” that electronically connected simultaneous regional conferences at twelve universities to discuss sustainable biofuels production. We hosted a workshop in bio-asphalt, bringing together asphalt production and paving companies to discuss the prospects for converting certain fractions of bio-oil into asphalt substitute. With support from Cargill, we hosted a two-week intensive course in biorenewables for graduate students from around the world. We successfully recruited Jim Bushnell to serve as the first director of the recently established Biobased Industry Center. Bushnell, well known for his work on energy markets while a professor at UC–Berkeley, has been named the Cargill Chair in Energy Economics at Iowa State. Our affiliated faculty are engaged in a variety of new and continuing projects in biorenewables that cover the value chain from crop production, harvest and storage, conversion to biobased products, and utilization of these products. We feature the work of a few of the many junior faculty who are making early impacts on biorenewables at Iowa State: Emily Heaton, Matt Darr, and Terry Meyer. The vocabulary of biorenewables grew this past year with frequent reference to drop-in fuels, algal fuels, thermochemical biofuels, solar fuels, torrefaction, and biochar. We will describe the impact of this new vocabulary on our programs in next year’s annual report.


Biorenewables Research Laboratory The Biorenewables Research Laboratory, made possible through a $32 million strategic investment by the state of Iowa, is under construction on the west side of the Iowa State campus. Once completed, the approximately 39,000 net square feet of new education and research laboratory space will replace labs and offices currently located in several buildings across campus. The innovative facility will provide the support that faculty need to advance the science in this important area, and it will foster new partnerships with government and the private sector

that will be essential to achieving a bioeconomy. “The Biorenewables Research Laboratory is at the center of Iowa State’s efforts to build expertise in biorenewable resources and products that will fuel the bioeconomy,” says Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy. “Our mission is for Iowa State to be the leader in research and development and a catalyst for commercial ventures, and in so doing, support Iowa’s goal to become the world center in the bioeconomy.” This new building will house the Bioeconomy Institute as well as

research centers closely affiliated with Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Initiative. Co-occupants will be the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), funded by the National Science Foundation, and the Biobased Industry Center (BIC), funded by industry partners. These centers will anchor both research laboratories and instructional laboratories, which are vital to enhancing Iowa State’s unique biorenewables scholarship, degree programs, and outreach. The great hall at the entrance of the Biorenewables Research Laboratory Building provides a grand view of the


C ollaboratio n • I n n o vatio n • E mer g i n g T ech n olo g ies • D isco v ery • R esearch • E ducatio n •

bench and high bay pilot-scale facilities that will house the thermochemical and hybrid thermochemical/biological conversion projects. There are demonstration teaching laboratories for courses that focus on a systems approach to biorenewables education. The first floor also houses the administrative units of the Bioeconomy Institute, BIC, and CBiRC. The second floor is dedicated to emerging research programs within CBiRC, specifically chemical catalyst design and reaction engineering.

The third floor spaces expand the research and development capacity of thermochemical conversion of biomass into fuels, chemicals, and energy. Bench-scale research technologies in these laboratories include fast pyrolysis, gasification, bio-oil upgrading, catalysis, torrefaction, and biochar production and characterization. The fourth floor provides innovative laboratories and interaction areas for research in biocatalysis and microbial metabolic engineering.

This interdisciplinary research building will open in spring 2010. In keeping with the spirit of sustainability and environmental stewardship, the Biorenewables Research Laboratory complies with guidelines adopted by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®). The greening of the new facility includes sustainable products and building materials, optimized energy performance, rainwater recovery, a chilled beam cooling system, and native plants in the landscape incorporating biomass crop specimens.

Above: Directors (left to right) Robert C. Brown, Bioeconomy Institute; James Bushnell, Biobased Industry Center; and Brent Shanks, Center for Biorenewable Chemicals


• B iore n ewables R esearch L aboratory • S ystems A p p roach • L eadershi p • B ioeco n omy


• B io

I n te g ratio n • Productio n • Processi n g • C ommerciali z atio n • B io C e n tury R esearch Farm • •

BioCentury Research Farm The BioCentury Research Farm, an integrated production and processing research and demonstration facility, is the first of its kind in the United States. This new facility, dedicated in September 2009, accelerates research and development of biobased fuels, chemicals, and products. “The foundation of the bioeconomy is what is grown in the ground, and Iowa is the best place in the world for growing things,” Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy said. “But in order for Iowa to become a world leader in the bioeconomy, we must also be the


best at reaping the benefits of what is produced. And that is what we intend to do at the BioCentury Research Farm.” The farm combines biomass production and processing with the goal of helping build a “second-generation biofuels industry,” says Larry Johnson, professor of food science and human nutrition and director of the BioCentury Research Farm. “We plan to use the facility to develop new cropping methods, processes, and products that will generate new

sources of income for Iowa farms and agribusiness,” says Johnson. The BioCentury Research Farm is designed for collaboration, not only between faculty and students from various colleges and departments, but also with leading agricultural and fuel and chemical industries. The facilities will allow scale-up of new technologies and investigation of scientific and engineering questions under real-world situations.

Ne x t Ge n eratio n F eedstoc k s • B iochemical • T hermochemical • S ustai n ability • B iomass

Researchers will be able to study systems that turn a variety of biomass feedstocks into bio-oil or synthetic gas using thermochemical technologies, ethanol and industrial chemicals by fermentation, or integrated systems using thermochemical and fermentation technologies. “This is what makes Iowa State unique,” says Johnson. “While other facilities are focusing on one conversion process, we are considering multiple conversion processes and

thinking in the broadest context of a biorefinery.”

bioproducts will be grown onsite in research plots covering 1,000 acres.

The BioCentury Research Farm is located 10 miles west of Ames on Iowa State’s Agronomy and Agricultural and Biosystems Research Farm. The site was selected for its rural setting and high visibility with easy access from the I-35 corridor. Research at the 23,000-square-foot Biomass Processing Facility will address some of the most critical questions facing the biorenewables industry. Biomass crops destined for use as biofuels and

In addition to funding from the state of Iowa and the U.S. Small Business Administration, lead gifts for equipment and the construction of the BioCentury Research Farm were provided by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a DuPont business; Rockwell Automation; Centocor, a division of Johnson & Johnson; Vermeer; and Van Meter. John Deere and AGCO have also donated equipment to specific projects that are being conducted at the BioCentury Research Farm. Facilities

Larry Johnson, director, and Andy Suby, manager, of the BioCentury Research Farm



Biomass Feedstock Production

Perennial Potential


an giant grasses help fuel the world? Emily Heaton, assistant professor of agronomy, thinks so—that’s why she studies the potential that perennial energy crops such as Miscanthus and switchgrass have as biomass feedstocks to create clean, sustainable, and cost-effective energy.

Why study these grasses when corn is so abundant in the state of Iowa and has potential as a feedstock? According to Heaton, research indicates that Miscanthus could produce 250 percent more ethanol than corn without requiring additional land. And that’s just one advantage.

The group conducts trials on land near the BioCentury Research Farm and across the state to evaluate the plants at many levels and understand how nutrients are cycled in the plants, with the ultimate goal of providing recommendations for how to manage the energy crop in the future.

“Perennial grasses meet most of the ideal energy crop requirements better than any other plant type,” she says. “They can grow quickly in one year and are extremely efficient with photosynthesis so they don’t use as much water or as many nutrients as a plant like a tree might. They can also be harvested annually but have perennial structures below ground that they use to store carbon and nutrients for the next year. This means that if we can learn to manage them well, they can produce a lot of biomass and store a lot of carbon without a lot of inputs.”

“Testing the crop in many locations is important because all crop production and biomass is local,” Heaton says. “Soil type and environments vary depending on where you are, which can impact the practices farmers implement to produce the crop.”

Miscanthus, a personal favorite of Heaton’s for biomass feedstock, is a tropical warm season grass that is closely related to sugar cane. Despite being a tropical grass, it grows in temperate regions, making it possible to grow it in Iowa and across the United States. But as is the case with any energy crop, there are some issues to overcome. Producers don’t yet understand the best way to manage the grass for survival in the first year. That, combined with the fact that there is limited planting material available, can make it an expensive and somewhat risky crop for producers to invest in at this point. Heaton and her research group in the Biomass Crop Production Laboratory are working to make these factors nonissues.

Emily Heaton, assistant professor of agronomy

Even with so much variance, there are still some broadly applicable themes in researching biomass feedstocks. For Heaton the Miscanthus she works with has a very wide geographic range, and with some best management practices it can become a crop for farmers across the world to produce. “Energy crops can help producers feel good about what they are doing and provide something that’s a needed commodity in a way that also provides for the producers,” Heaton says. “People across America understand how important these crops are to future generations, but there are some bottlenecks to overcome before we see widespread energy crop production. With my research, I want to identify how to overcome those bottlenecks so that energy policy and farmers can move in the right direction.”



Biomass Feedstock Processing

Stabilization and Stora g e


o move biomass feedstocks from the field to generate electricity or produce fuel, researchers face a big challenge: how to stabilize the material and store it for future use. Assistant Professor Matt Darr, in agricultural and biosystems engineering, is using torrefaction as one possible solution to take

corn stover and turn it into a form that is easily transported long distances.

Darr describes torrefaction as a simple process—hightemperature drying without oxygen that modifies the physical properties of material. Changes include reducing the material’s elasticity, making it more brittle so engineers can more easily reduce biomass to the small particles needed for many processes. “We like torrefaction for a number of reasons,” Darr says. “It creates a very stable product, which will reduce our losses during storage and allow us to store the material more cost effectively than other scenarios.” When biomass is torrefied it can be easily formed into pellets, making it possible to store in traditional grain bins. For producers, this method of storage can be easily integrated into existing practices without significant investment. That, coupled with the idea that producers wouldn’t have to harvest a new crop, makes the overall process advantageous. “Because corn crops are so productive within Iowa, removing some stover at harvest can be done in a way that protects the environment and is sustainable,” Darr explains. From really thin leaves to thicker, spongier stocks to dense cobs, the nonuniformity of corn stover requires Darr to look for mechanical scenarios that can handle all types of different materials. His work also seeks to identify which thermal characteristics, such as temperature and retention time, will result in the best end product.



Once the ideal torrefaction process has been established, Darr envisions an agricultural co-op model to manage the biomass, where producers bring their biomass immediately after harvest, allowing the material to be stabilized before significant decay can occur. “There has been growing interest in cellulosic fuels over the past several years, and we are now seeing some pilot scale plants come online,” Darr says. “The farming community is becoming more aware of these developments and is looking for ways to produce, store, and deliver biomass at a large scale while ensuring a high-quality feedstock.” This interest is something Darr hopes will continue and increase as more advancements are made. “Displacing foreign oil is a high national priority that’s going to take a lot of work,” Darr says. “But if you think about what type of economic development and recovery would occur if we shifted billions of dollars in material costs from foreign countries into rural America where, by and large, the crops will be grown, it’s hard not to want to be a part of that.” Darr’s torrefaction research is funded by ConocoPhillips.

Matt Darr, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering



Improving bio-oil stabilization and combustion

Taming the Flame


erry Meyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has a fundamental scientific interest in combustion and chemically reacting flows. This interest, combined with his desire to have a positive impact on energy and the environment, has led to his research on ways to improve bio-oil stabilization and combustion.

Bio-oil is produced through a process called fast pyrolysis. Biomass is heated to 400–500˚C in an oxygen-free environment to promote its decomposition to vapors and aerosols. Rapid cooling then recovers the product as bio-oil, which can be used for several purposes. Scientists and engineers at the Bioeconomy Institute are looking at its use in boilers, cofired power plants, internal combustion engines, gas-turbine engines, and gasification systems, as well as upgrading bio-oil to transportation fuels and chemicals. Meyer is actively involved in advancing the use of bio-oil in many of these applications. “Our work right now is focused on making the bio-oil more stable so that it’s a better feedstock for all of these processes,” Meyer explains. “There are a number of contaminants in the biomass that can foul the combustors and make the oil less stable.” Meyer is investigating ways to clean up the oil before it is condensed in a process called hot vapor filtration. His experimental investigation of this process will be used to validate a computer model that simulates hot vapor filtration. The project is in collaboration with Robert Brown, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering; Shankar Subramaniam, associate professor of mechanical engineering; and Rodney Fox, professor of chemical and biological engineering.

Terry Meyer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering

In other projects, Meyer uses laser diagnostics to study chemical reaction processes of syngas (also produced during pyrolysis) and bio-oil. Working with Song-Charng Kong, William and Virginia Binger Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Meyer studies the combustion process to identify properties and reactions taking place in the flame itself. “Bio-oil has approximately half the energy as conventional fuel oil or diesel,” Meyer explains. “When you burn it in a typical furnace the flame behaves differently, and if you don’t have the combustion system configured correctly you can produce excess pollutants like soot, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide.” Additionally, bio-oil contains approximately 25 percent water, unlike conventional fuel that has essentially no water, making the flame burn at a different temperature. The unique properties of bio-oil will require engineers to redesign combustion chambers and determine better ways to inject the fuel and produce a clean flame. “Combustion devices generate about 85 percent of our energy, and as we try to incorporate alternative fuels we have to learn how to burn those fuels,” Meyer says. “There are a lot of interesting aspects to the work that make it both challenging and rewarding.”



E n tre p re n eurshi p • S uccess • O p p ortu n ity • Ne x t Ge n eratio n L eaders • D isco v ery • Av ello

Building a Future in the Bioeconom y This story begins over two years ago when three students enrolled at Iowa State to pursue their master’s degree in mechanical engineering and biorenewable resources and technology.

After spending months together in the classroom, at the lab bench, and in seminar lectures, they soon realized they shared similar research interests and goals.

Anthony Pollard, Cody Ellens, and Jared Brown came together under the guidance and direction of Robert C. Brown as their major professor. Timing couldn’t have been more perfect as their arrival coincided with the creation of the Bioeconomy Institute and the announcement of the ConocoPhillips investment in second-generation biofuels research at Iowa State.

All three students focused on research, development, and evaluation of alternative fast pyrolysis reactor designs for the production of bio-oil— Pollard on fluidized bed systems, Ellens on free fall reactors, and Brown on auger reactors.

Recent graduates form Avello Bioenergy: (left to right) Anthony Pollard, Cody Ellens, and Jared Brown


The trio decided to mutually focus on the technology. “We wanted to take it to the next level,” says Ellens. “It became more than just research, but a driver for discovery and the opportunity to make a difference.” With confidence in their research experience, an entrepreneurial spirit soon followed. The students formed Avello Bioenergy to commercialize technology developed at Iowa State,

ello B ioe n er g y • B iomass C o n v ersio n • Fast Pyrolysis • B io - oil Productio n • R esearch E x p erie n

which is closely aligned to their research in bio-oil production. The group was awarded the top prize in the statewide Pappajohn’s New Venture Business Plan competition in 2009. They were also recognized at a Rice University Business Plan competition. “This experience was invaluable,” says Jared Brown. “It showed us that a strong research background is not enough. A solid business plan is just as critical to success.”

Avello Bioenergy, Inc., is an early-stage start-up company specializing in the conversion of biomass into liquid bio-oil via fast pyrolysis. The company designs and markets the bio-oil production facilities to include proprietary technology licensed from Iowa State, selling complete systems to companies and individuals involved in forestry and agriculture as well as customers in end use bio-oil markets. The Avello Bioenergy technology platform provides low-cost, thermal conversion

of abundant biomass resources into profitable feedstocks for asphalt, fuel, chemical, and soil amendment applications. The name, Avello, was cleverly chosen because of its Latin translation meaning “to separate.” Well, that is exactly what these entrepreneurs are doing. They plan to blaze their own trail. Their drive and vision have motivated them to step out into uncertain territory. It’s a risky place to be. But in many ways, their reward is mighty. Education


The Best and the Brightest Intensive Program attracts global participants LAst summer, the Bioeconomy Institute hosted an inaugural two-week intensive program that provided advanced student training in the expanding fields of biorenewable resources and technology. The academic focus was on innovative ideas and technologies relevant to the sustainable production of biofuels and biobased products.


A group of 45 high-caliber student participants, most of them graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, were selected from such places as Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Hungary, Uruguay, and the United States. The students’ areas of concentrated study varied from political science to economics, biology, and chemical engineering.

a bioeconomy. The talks covered chemistry and plant biology; life cycle analyses and environmental impacts; next generation feedstocks production and processing technologies; biomass harvest, storage, and transportation systems; biofuels production; fine chemicals and fibers; climate change; and human, social, economic, and policy dimensions of the bioeconomy.

The intensive program featured talks, tours, demonstrations, and exams that covered the opportunities and the challenges of developing

The tours included visits to Cargill headquarters in Minneapolis, Iowa State’s BioCentury Research Farm, the Couser farm that showcased biomass production and conversion,

a Renewable Energy Group biodiesel plant, and the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant. After several years of participating in a biorenewables program in Europe, “we thought this was our chance to bring students from around the world to the center of the real action in biorenewables,” says Larry Johnson, the director of Iowa State’s Center for Crop Utilization Research and the university’s BioCentury Research Farm, a professor of food science and human nutrition, and a program organizer. Abigail Martin, a doctoral student in environmental policy at the University of California, Berkeley, says the speakers at Iowa State’s intensive program provided her with a different perspective on energy and environmental issues.

In California, she says the discussion is about land-use policies and lowcarbon fuel standards. In Iowa, she’s hearing about new cropping systems and sustainable agricultural practices. She says these new perspectives will contribute to her research of biofuel policies and regulations. Raj Raman—the associate director of educational programs for Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Institute, an associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, and a program organizer— says one goal of the intensive program was to bring students from a variety of backgrounds together to share and debate their views. Another goal was to share some of Iowa State’s expertise in biorenewable research and technology. Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Institute boasts more than

160 affiliated faculty members across the university. “What is really exciting about our intensive program is that it fits right into the three-pronged mission of land grants, with a focus on research, outreach, and education,” Raman says. “This is very much an educational program, but we are leveraging the faculty speakers who are all wellrecognized researchers in key areas of biorenewables. That tie between the active research and the educational opportunity afforded to our global participants is an outreach effort.” A $600,000 gift from Cargill supported the Intensive Program in Biorenewables and other Iowa State education programs focused on the bioeconomy.



Graduating Success The Biorenewable Resources and Technology (BRT) graduate program has been in place for almost a decade and has enrolled more than five dozen students over those years. The program has enabled Iowa State to attract some of the brightest minds in this emerging area to our university. The graduates of the program have proven its value by their outstanding performance in a variety of career settings, ranging from industry to academia. Raj Raman, the director of graduate education and associate director of educational programs at the Bioeconomy Institute as well as an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, is constantly expanding the quality of the course content and educational offerings through the BRT graduate program. Raman works



with faculty affiliates to enhance the program curriculum with new course offerings in biorenewables. Recent additions include Bioprocessing and Bioproducts, Production and Use of Biofuels, and Pretreatment of Biomass. “We are able to do this because of a core group of dedicated faculty members in departments such as agronomy, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and agricultural and biosystems engineering who truly believe in the value of interdisciplinary education, as embodied in the BRT program,” says Raman. External funds have been leveraged to expand distance education opportunities, reaching a wider array

of students, and have supported international programs, allowing Iowa State students to spend two weeks to a semester studying at European partner institutions. These funds have also afforded a world-class intensive program in biorenewables, attracting students from across the country and around the globe. In addition to traditional master’s and doctoral degrees in this field, a graduate certificate program provides advanced study in biorenewable resources to professionals in the existing workforce who come from a wide variety of science and engineering backgrounds.

Students Gain International Perspective Graduate students are given an opportunity to study biorenewable resources at partner institutions in Europe. Larry Johnson and Raj Raman work with colleagues from the University of Arkansas and Kansas State University to coordinate the biorenewables exchange program with three European universities: the University of Ghent in Belgium, the University of Graz in Austria, and the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse in France. The program is supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. The EU/US Curriculum on Renewable Resources and Clean Technology program allows graduate students to enroll in an intensive two-week program or to study abroad at one of the European universities for up to six months. “Nine ISU graduate students have recently participated in two-week

programs at Graz” says Johnson. “These students participated in a unique learning experience that expanded their education in biorenewables beyond the confines of our country.” The purpose of the intensive course was to create a comprehensive overview of sustainably driven production of biomaterials. Students analyzed the production chain from primary production to the transformation of bioresources into consumer or industrial products. In addition to coursework, students participated in practical exercises and excursions and made contacts with international experts. The students toured industries that produce largescale biorenewable products and visited laboratories conducting research on biorenewables and pharmaceuticals.

Attending the two-week course in Graz gave students the chance to see the need for biorenewables beyond the United States. “The program was a great experience for me to learn about current developments in research and technology from experts worldwide and how what we do at Iowa State integrates with other countries and cultures,” says Dustin Dalluge, MS candidate in mechanical engineering. Education


Conference Examines Sustainable Solutions The Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State was primary host and lead sponsor of the 2009 BIO eConference, “Growing the Bioeconomy: Solutions for Sustainability,” on December 1. This conference, currently in its seventh year, expanded the audience by forming an 11-state alliance of Midwest universities. The cohost university sites

James E. Lovelock, keynote speaker at 2009 BIO eConference


shared content through high-speed communication systems to promote agriculturally based sustainable solutions to global climate change and energy supply. The conference focused on sustainability challenges by • Exploring a systems perspective on biorenewables • Offering solutions to current questions regarding grain ethanol • Examining the potential role of biochar as an agent for carbon sequestration

• Discussing the implementation of new ideas for land stewardship with biofuels agriculture The keynote speaker for the event was James E. Lovelock, an independent scientist, author, researcher, and environmentalist who is most famous for proposing and popularizing the revolutionary theory known as Gaia. One of the world’s most renowned thinkers on global environmental science, Lovelock called upon farmers to convert agricultural residues to biochar for incorporation into the soil as the only solution to global climate change. Biochar’s potential to help reduce global climate change inspired 150 people to gather at Iowa State and nearly 400 people throughout the Midwest to join virtually for this conference. Biochar is charcoal created by the chemical decomposition of biomass, and scientists say this biofuel byproduct has

B iobased I n dustry O utloo k C o n fere n ce • O utreach • B ioeco n omy • B iochar • F ou n datio n al

possibilities for sequestering carbon and improving soil fertility.

more efficient and fewer acres would be needed for agricultural production.”

The key is to bury the biochar in soil. Johannes Lehmann, an associate professor of soil fertility management and soil biogeochemistry at Cornell University, says biochar is more efficient than other forms of carbon for improving soil fertility.

According to Lehmann, a biochar program must be based on sound science. A systems perspective is required because there are tradeoffs and opportunities, and research and development are needed to spur implementation.

“Not all biochar is created equal,” Lehmann told the conference partici-

David Chicoine, president of South Dakota State University, one of the conference cosponsors, noted there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for advancing the bioeconomy. No state, region, or sector can innovate and advance the industry alone. Collaboration is required for “pushing the envelope” on biosciences to improve energy security, environmental stewardship and sustainability, and economic prosperity.

pants. “It can be created from different feedstocks, and it needs to be tailored to the soil, similar to the way manure application is tailored to the soil.” “Using biochar to improve soil fertility could reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint,” says Robert Brown, director of the ISU Bioeconomy Institute. “With increased soil fertility, agricultural land use could become

Jack Payne, vice president of ISU Extension and Outreach, noted that the bioeconomy may be the nation’s best chance for achieving these key goals. Biofuels can help enhance national security by reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil. The bioeconomy offers opportunities for increased markets for agricultural crops with the benefits of reducing the need for crop support programs and improving environmental quality. In addition, the bioeconomy allows for advances in rural development, creating economic opportunities where the biofuel resource is located. Full program details and numerous conference presentations are available by visiting

Outreach 21

al S cie n ce • S ustai n able Practice • S olutio n s • Networ k O p p ortu n ity • C ollaboratio n • B iosc

Next Generation Asphalt Paving the way for greener highways THe Asphalt Showcase at Iowa State University brought together transportation and thermochemical researchers as well as industry partners and policymakers to investigate the development of biorenewable substitutes for petroleum in the production of asphalt for road surfaces and transportation fuels. A series of presentations by legislators and Iowa State University researchers, as well as laboratory tours, focused on the research, development, and ultimate benefits of the utilization of biobased products in transportation infrastructure. Like much of western society, the U.S. paved highway and road system is heavily dependent on oil. The asphalt industry, in particular, relies on the oil industry to supply the compounds


needed for asphalt road construction. As oil refiners overhaul equipment to achieve maximum output of highly profitable fossil-based fuels, the asphalt industry is experiencing drastic shortages. Where 40 percent of a barrel of oil was formerly designated for asphalt material production, the newer systems allocate only 10 percent for asphalt materials. The resulting shortage of asphalt materials has sent shock waves through federal, state, county, and municipal road departments. Because

asphalt is used for more than 90 percent of U.S. highway surfaces, governments have been forced to delay transportation infrastructure repairs and construction. Iowa State University scientists and engineers are working on new technologies to produce bio-oil that can substitute for petroleum-based ingredients in asphalt. The process used to produce the bio-oil is called fast pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis systems produce bio-oil by rapidly heating fibrous nonfood biomass such as switchgrass, hybrid poplar, or cornstover to 400–500 degrees C, followed by rapid quenching of the vapors to produce bio-oil and biochar. New bio-oil recovery technologies developed at Iowa State University separate the bio-oil into different fractions, some of which

appear to be ideal materials for asphalt replacement. Preliminary tests using bio-oil fractions in asphalt applications indicate that bio-oil asphalt is more durable in cold and hot temperatures. Other benefits of bio-oil asphalt include lower energy requirements for mixing the asphalt and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Asphalt industry leaders are closely monitoring the opportunities provided by bio-oil. “Finding additional sources of asphalt binder that are alternatives to crude oil, biobased and renewable, could further develop Iowa into a leader for the nation and the world in the development of biobased technologies,” says Bill Rosener of the Asphalt Paving Association of Iowa. “It

Asphalt Showcase speakers (left to right) Eldon Boes, Chris Williams, Robert C. Brown, and David Laird

is great to think of Iowa-grown crops being used to construct Iowa roads.” The Asphalt Showcase was sponsored by the Bioeconomy Institute and the Center for Transportation Research and Education at Iowa State University, as well as by the Asphalt Paving Association of Iowa.



B iobased I n dustry C e n ter • Policy A ssessme n t • I m pact • E co n omics • R esearch • Part n ers

Biobased Industry Center The purpose of the newly formed Biobased Industry Center (BIC) is to create a better understanding and improved policy assessment of the biobased industry’s rapid evolution. In particular, BIC is focused on the national and global economic, business, social, and workforce policy issues that influence the biobased industry’s profitability, sustainability, and greenhouse gas impacts. In August, James Bushnell was named director of the Biobased Industry Center and Iowa State’s first Cargill Chair in Energy Economics. Bushnell wants the Biobased Industry Center to be a place where energy experts from around campus and the

country meet to talk about science, policy, and the issues of the day. The center supports interdisciplinary research of the biorenewables industry and its economic, policy, business, and social issues. In addition to using the center’s resources to support a competition for research grants, Bushnell would also like the center to be a place where experts from academia, industry, and government can gather and share ideas. “I’d like to see BIC continue to grow into a center with a capital C,” Bushnell says. “I’d like it to be a place that brings people together for both formal and informal exchanges. It is often the casual interactions that can be most rewarding.”


He sees the center attracting Iowa State researchers as well as visiting scholars and experts for big-picture discussions of biofuels, technology, climate, efficiency, markets, deregulation, and other energy issues. The Biobased Industry Center is funded by a group of industry partners who each serve as a member of the industrial advisory board. Ian Purtle, Cargill, is chair of the board and Tom Binder, ADM, is vice chair. The board meets twice per year with the center’s leaders and principal investigators to identify and prioritize research areas as well as provide advice and guidance regarding issues, challenges,

ers • L eadershi p • I n teractio n • M ar k ets • E n er g y • E missio n s • R e g ulatio n s • Publicatio n s

and opportunities of concern and importance to the industry. The board also develops the request for proposals, the selection process for center research projects, and linkages with additional industry partners. The center has an internal executive team composed of representatives from the Bioeconomy Institute, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, the Iowa State University Foundation, and the Center for Industrial Research and Service. This group reviews and discusses the center’s strategic plan, budget, research platforms, facilities, progress, and related issues.

Current Research Projects • Carbon Burdens as an Alternative to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions • Linking Carbon Policy and Agricultural Practices • Biofuel and Greenhouse Gases: Yields, Yield Growth, and Land-Use Effects • Techno-Economic Analysis of Cellulosic Biomass Upgrading through Torrefaction • Costs and Life Cycle Carbon Footprints of Existing and Proposed Biofuel Feedstocks: Algae, Miscanthus, Switchgrass, and Corn • Techno-Economic Analyses

of Biomass Production, Harvesting/Storage/Transport, and Bioprocessing and Biomanufacturing • An Economic Framework for Assessing Biofuels’ Greenhouse Gas Impacts with Land-Use Changes • Building a FAPRI (Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute) Carbon Model to Measure the Equilibrium Carbon Balance of Biofuels • Biomass Production and Processing Economics: Comprehensive Costs for Reducing Carbon Emissions


Biobased Industry Center Industrial Advisory Board members


Center for Biorenewable Chemicals Transforming the chemical industry for a sustainable future The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), the first NSF Engineering Research Center established at Iowa State, marked its first anniversary.

NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals

The five-year $18.5 million award is part of the National Science Foundation’s Generation Three Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Program. The third-generation Engineering Research Centers are designed to create university and industry partnerships in research and education that promote innovation, transform engineered systems, advance technology, and produce engineering graduates who can creatively contribute to U.S. competitive advantage in a global economy. CBiRC is developing technologies that can transform today’s petroleum-based chemical industry into an industry based on plant materials. The center


is finding ways to integrate biological and chemical catalysts to produce biorenewable chemicals. Advances could move the $400 billion U.S. industrial chemical industry toward more sustainable feedstocks and technologies. An objective of the center is to educate undergraduate and graduate students to be creative, innovative engineers who can function in a global economy. The center is exposing students to multidisciplinary research that can advance the production of biorenewable chemicals. Through international partnerships, students gain experience working in teams with faculty and students from other

cultures. They gain exposure to entrepreneurship and innovation through partnerships with industry, including start-up companies and venture capitalists. The center’s education efforts also include programs for precollege students and teachers that bring engineering concepts into their classrooms to stimulate students to study engineering and science. Brent Shanks, the director of the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals and professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Basil Nikolau, the center’s deputy director and the Frances M. Craig Professor in the departments of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology and food science and human nutrition, says the center has made good progress in its first year.

“We have a broad vision to use both chemical and biological catalysts,” Shanks says. “The industry has been developing biorenewable technologies product by product. Pulling these ideas together into a general framework for creating a range of chemicals will help transform the industry.” Shanks says the state of Iowa and university leaders made it possible for the project team to successfully compete for one of the research centers. He says investments from the Bioeconomy Institute and the Plant Sciences Institute helped attract the faculty and research capabilities necessary for the new center. CBiRC’s academic partners are the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Rice University in Houston, the University of Wisconsin–

Madison, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and the University of California, Irvine. Affiliated faculty will also come from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. International partners are the Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-PlanckSociety in Berlin, Germany, and the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby. The center will also develop precollege programs with Des Moines Public Schools and the Heartland Area Education Agency in Johnston. And the center will develop partnerships with industry as well as start-up companies through Iowa State’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.



Key Collaborations BEI provides cohesion among the diverse efforts in biorenewable resources at Iowa State and encourages collaboration on campus. Currently, BEI engages all seven colleges and 29 departments and partners with 29 research affiliates. Science and Engineering Board Members Robert Anex

Chad Hart

Basil Nikolau

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Center for Agriculture and Rural Development

Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology

Robert C. Brown

Lawrence Johnson

D. Raj Raman

Mechanical Engineering

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Diane Meyer

Brent H. Shanks

Bioeconomy Institute

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Jim Bushnell Economics

Jill Euken Bioeconomy Institute

Steve Fales Agronomy

John Miranowski Economics

Ken Moore

Keith Woo Chemistry




Robert C. Brown

Jill Euken

D. Raj Raman

Becky Staedtler


Deputy Director

Director of Graduate Education

Business Manager



Ames Laboratory Biorenewable Resources Consortium Biobased Industry Center Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products Center for Agricultural and Rural Development Center for Catalysis Center for Crops Utilization Research Center for Industrial Research and Service Center for Metabolic Biology Center for Plant Breeding Center for Plant Genomics Center for Plant Transformation Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies Center for Transportation Research and Education Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Programs Institute for Design Research and Outreach Institute for Food Safety and Security Institute for Physical Research and Technology Institute for Transportation Institute of Science and Society Iowa Agricultural and Home Economics Experiment Station Iowa Biotechnology Byproducts Consortium Iowa Energy Center Iowa Water Center ISU Extension Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture NSF-ERC Center for Biorenewable Chemicals NSF-IMI CoSMIC International Materials Institute Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Plant Sciences Institute

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Agronomy Animal Science Atmospheric Sciences Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology Chemical and Biological Engineering Chemistry Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Community and Regional Planning Ecologic, Evolution, and Organismal Biology Economics English (Linguistics) Entomology Food Science and Human Nutrition Genetics, Development and Cell Biology Geology Horticulture Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Journalism and Mass Communications Landscape Architecture Logistics Operations and Management Information Systems Materials Science and Engineering Mechanical Engineering Natural Resource Ecology and Management Philosophy and Religious Studies Plant Pathology Sociology Sustainable Agriculture Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine

Diane Meyer

Diane Love

Ryan Smith

MaryAnn Sherman

Proposal Manager

Assistant to the Director

Industry Relations Coordinator

Communications and Marketing Coordinator 29

Administrative Report External Funding by Source: 2008–2009


Industry University


External Funding by Unit: 2008–2009




Institutional Funding State of Iowa funding—roughly $ 0.9 million in fiscal year 2009—supports the day-to-day operations of the Bioeconomy Institute. Funds also support the BRT graduate program and the recruiting and curriculum development efforts of the director of graduate education; industry outreach; organization and sponsorship of the annual Biobased Industry Outlook Conference; representation at national and international conferences and symposia; proposal development; development of communications and other public relations materials; and maintenance of the unit’s web site,

Sponsored Funding The Bioeconomy Institute’s affiliated faculty and staff generated over $19.6 million in sponsored funding in fiscal year 2009. These extramural funds support the institute’s research, education, and outreach programs and are largely derived from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy ($5.3 M), National Science Foundation ($3.4 M), and USDA ($2.6 M). Significant investment has also come from the state of Iowa through the Board of Regents, Iowa Office of Energy Independence ($2.4 M), and a variety of industries ($5.5 M). Cumulative sponsored funding, from inception of the Bioeconomy Institute through fiscal year 2009, is more than $80.2 million.


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Bioeconomy Institute 2009