Researchers Garner Grant to Study Innovative Biofuels Production Technology

A team of researchers from Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute is investigating a new technology for converting biomass into biofuels and chemicals. With a $371,000, one-year grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-E (ARPA-E), the team will develop and demonstrate catalytic autothermal pyrolysis (CAP) in laboratory- and pilot-scale reactors.

[PHOTO]Joe PolinJoe Polin, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Iowa State, is on a research team investigating a new technology for converting biomass into fuels and chemicals. 

With traditional pyrolysis, biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce bio-oil, which can then be turned into fuels and chemicals. But with CAP, a small amount of air is purposefully admitted into the system in the presence of a zeolite catalyst. This modification allows the process to generate its own heat for pyrolysis and catalysis rather than relying on outside sources.

The Sweet Spot for Autothermal Pyrolysis

“It has been difficult to find the right conditions for autothermal pyrolysis to work,” said Mark Wright, an Iowa State assistant professor of mechanical engineering and lead investigator on the project. “Too much oxygen, and the biomass combusts. Too little, and the system requires an external heat source, defeating the purpose. We’ve been able to find the ‘sweet spot’ that provides the optimal conditions, allowing us to remove the external heat source and maintain the quality of the product.”

The CAP system provides “process intensification,” which means it can produce up to five times the amount of biofuel as a traditional pyrolysis system of the same size. Moreover, by eliminating cumbersome indirect heating methods such as heat exchangers, circulating solids, and separate combustion units, a CAP system is much simpler. As a result, the design of a CAP system lends itself to modularization, which can reduce the cost of manufacturing and installation.

The goal for this APRA-E project is to demonstrate the production of transportation fuel intermediates and fuel enhancers using CAP technology. The researchers will develop models of CAP reactors and determine their commercialization potential and environmental impacts. If the technology can be scaled and is economically viable, it could be used for distributed processing of cellulosic biomass, such as corn stover and switchgrass, into drop-in biofuels.

The institute’s initial work on modular pyrolysis was the result of a grant from the Iowa Energy Center. In addition to Wright, the team includes Robert C. Brown, BEI director and Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering; Ryan Smith, deputy director of BEI; and Joe Polin, a graduate student in mechanical engineering.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E awardees are unique because they are developing entirely new ways to generate, store, and use energy.

The Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University is a multidisciplinary research organization that advances the use of biorenewable resources for the production of fuels, energy, chemicals, and materials.



National Bioenergy Day @ Iowa State University, Oct. 19, 2016

[LOGO]National Bioenergy DayOctober 19, 2016, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Sukup Atrium
Iowa State University

Iowa State University will be participating in the Bioenergy Day for the second straight year. This 4th annual event unites organizations across the country that support bioenergy.

Iowa State’s student enrollment is for fall 2016 is 36,660, and we feel it’s essential to educate this large and important audience about Iowa’s bioenergy leadership. We’re also aiming to raise the students’ awareness of the many educational, extracurricular, and career opportunities in the field.

bei_nbd_eventflyer_sOther goals include making Iowa State students aware of the university’s commitment to sustainability and assuring that the term “bioenergy” is inclusive to all forms of biomass, including grasses and agricultural residues generally available in Iowa,


[LOGO]Bioeconomy Institute

Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute (BEI) opens opportunities in Iowa’s burgeoning bioeconomy, where our society looks to agriculture for sustainable sources of fuel, energy, chemicals, and materials.
More about BEI

[LOGO\CenUSA Bioenergy

CenUSA Bioenergy is an ambitious Iowa State University-based, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) sponsored, research project investigating the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels and bioproducts system.
More about CenUSA Bioenergy


Iowa NSF EPSCoR is a $20+ million, five-year National Science Foundation program to build Iowa’s research capacity in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
More about Iowa NSF EPSCoR



Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG) is a leading North American advanced biofuels producer and developer of renewable chemicals. REG utilizes a nationwide production, distribution and logistics system as part of an integrated value chain model to focus on converting natural fats, oils and greases into advanced biofuels and converting diverse feedstocks into renewable chemicals. With 12 active biorefineries, research and development capabilities and a diverse and growing intellectual property portfolio, REG is committed to being a long-term leader in bio-based fuels and chemicals.

As a leader in our industry, we are always looking for future leaders. REG offers a comprehensive internship program which gives students the opportunity to test their skills while working on meaningful projects that have a direct impact on the organization. To learn more about REG, our internship program and full-time opportunities, we invite you to come visit with us at the National Bioenergy Day event.
More about Renewable Energy Group, Inc.

[LOGO]Live Green!

The Office of Sustainability oversees Iowa State University’s Live Green! Initiative, a campus-wide sustainability initiative encouraging all faculty, staff, and students to be fully committed to and engaged in making our campus, our operations and initiatives environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
More about the Live Green! Initiative

[LOGO]BRT Graduate Program

The Biorenewable Resources and Technology (BRT) graduate program at Iowa State University was the first program of its kind in the United States. While other universities offer certificate programs or minor programs related to biobased products and bioenergy, ISU offers M.S. and Ph.D degrees in this new field, as well as a minor for students obtaining degrees in other majors and a certificate. The program offers students from a wide variety of science and engineering backgrounds advanced study in the use of plant- and crop-based resources for the production of biobased products, including fuels, chemicals, materials, and energy.
More about the BRT graduate program

[LOGO]Iowa Energy Center

The Iowa Energy Center supports economic development, environmental sustainability, and social well-being in Iowa through energy innovation, education, and entrepreneurship. We provide Iowans with reliable, objective information on energy and efficiency options.
More about the Iowa Energy Center

[LOGO]Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites

The Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2) is bringing together university researchers and industry members to push the boundaries of renewable resources and establish new revenue creating processes and products. The center will focus on developing high-value biobased products from agricultural feedstocks.

Starting with the summer of 2017, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2), will be establishing a new Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site designed to provide undergraduate students a chance to participate in industry-directed fundamental research opportunities in the fields of bioplastics and biocomposites. The students will gain hands-on experience with synthesis, processing, and characterization of biobased plastics and composite materials.
More about the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (CB2)


The BioCentury Research Farm is the first-in-the-nation research and demonstration facility dedicated to biomass production and processing located seven miles west of the ISU campus on US Highway 30. It offers opportunities for large pilot and pre-commercial scale research in biomass feedstock production, harvest, storage, preparation, processing and laboratory testing. Field plots for crop production trials, field equipment modification and testing facilities, biomass storage facilities and biomass conversion facilities are available for on- and off-campus users. A new $5 million biopolymer processing plant (500 kg/day) has been built and commissioned for use. The BCRF is administered by the Center for Crops Utilization Research.
More about the BioCentury Research Farm


The Center for Crops Utilization Research is a resource to assist ISU researchers and external businesses with developing new processes, products and markets for corn, soybean, and other crops. CCUR strives to add value to grain and plant materials by conducting grant and contract research; offering short courses, workshops, seminars, and training; performing analytical testing, pilot plant processing, and consumer evaluation services; providing technical consulting services; and offering small-business incubator services. The center has state-of-the-art laboratory and pilot plant processing and analytical equipment.
More about the Center for Crops Utilization Research

[LOGO]City of Ames

The City of Ames will be focusing on its unique waste-to-energy operations involving the Resource Recovery System and the Ames Power Plant.
More about the City of Ames


ISU BioBus is an interdisciplinary entrepreneurial student initiative that recycles waste vegetable oil from ISU Dining into biodiesel fuel to power the City of Ames’ CyRide buses and in doing so teaches about the bioeconomy. More about ISU BioBus


C6 BioFarm

The C6 BioFarm game suite is designed for middle school classrooms in STEM and agriculture based subjects. More about C6 BioFarm


Located on the Iowa State University campus, the Iowa Water Center is one of 54 federally-funded Water Resources Research Institutes located throughout the United States and in U.S territories. We utilize diverse expertise from researchers, communicators, and policymakers on water-related issues. Our purpose is to identify research needs, fund water-related research, and connect research results to the public through outreach and education. We support building state-wide research capacity, education services, and serve as an incubator for water-related research projects.

We seek to inform decision-makers of today so that they may help build better policy to manage our water resources. We also work to translate water-related information and resources into tools that the public can use in their day-to-day lives. Students would be interested in learning more about what we do because we seek out opportunities to support and train leading water-related researchers of tomorrow. More about the Iowa Water Center


STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. The project is composed of a team of scientists, educators, and extension specialists who have chosen to work together on the use of prairie strips as a farmland conservation practice. We strive to more fully understand the assembly, management, function, and value of prairie strips; to communicate our results to diverse audiences; and to assist others with the implementation of prairie strips on farm fields. Our initial research site is located at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa. We are now implementing and maintaining research and demonstration sites across the Midwest, including on private commercial farms. More about Strips

[LOGO]Iowa State University Dept. of Agronomy

Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State, and her group work on dedicated energy crops. More about Heaton’s research

Heaton is also a partner with the the University of Iowa Biomass Fuel Project, an interdisciplinary program which aims to assess and improve university power plant facilities, biomass feedstock, and community awareness and education in biomass energy. The university currently uses oat hulls and wood chips as biomass fuel and is developing Miscanthus as a dedicated energy crop. The university produces biomass power using two solid fuel biolers at the main Power Plant and one solid fuel boiler at the UI research park to burn the co-blended fuel.

The Biomass Fuel Project involves numerous partners, including researchers at ISU, and strives to engage students and professionals in each aspect of the project. Student projects and community partners are essential to the development of the program. More about the University of Iowa Biomass Fuel Project 

Video Wins 2016 Biorenewables Art Competition

[PHOTO]Skyler KnutzenA video by Skyler Knutzen, an Iowa State University student, was named best-in-show at the seventh annual Biorenewables Art Competition held on Earth Day, April 22. The video, “Nail in the Coffin,” uses a horror movie theme to show the negative effect car emissions have on our environment. Knutzen receives a cash award of $750 for his entry.

Skyler Knutzen, an advertising major at Iowa State University, won the best-in-show award at the 2016 Biorenewables Art Competition for his short video, “Nail in the Coffin.”

This year’s competition marked the first in which videos were allowed entry. “Video is a growing medium for art, so we wanted to encourage students working in this medium to enter our competition,” said Jill Euken, BEI deputy director. Eleven videos were entered in the competition:

Art Meets Science

The competition is aimed at students from Iowa State’s College of Design, who create works that reflect the mission of the Bioeconomy Institute. The event connects them with the research occurring in the Biorenewables Research Laboratory located adjacent to the College of Design.

[ART]Phase I, Phase IIThe other winners in this year were physical works of art. First place and $350 went to Limay Vong for “Phase I, Phase I,” a ceramic work. Cassandra Corbin took second place and $250 for “Battle to Go Green,” a 3D mixed media piece, while Amanda Miller won third place and $150 for “River birch (Betula nigra),” a digital painting. The jurors awarded Alyssa Campbell an honorable mention for her watercolor, “Beauty of Biofuels.”

Second place went to Limay Vong for her ceramic piece, “Phase I, Phase II.”

The art was evaluated by a jury that included Mary Holtze, an adjunct art professor at Des Moines Area Community College; Kristin M. Roach, an Ames-based artist; and Jacqulyn Baughman, director of graduate education (DOGE) for the Biorenewables Resources and Technology program at Iowa State.

The videos and all of the art will be on display until March 2017 in the lobby of the Biorenewables Research Laboratory, located on the west side of the Iowa State campus. Viewing during office hours is free and open to the public,

You can also view artist statements, artwork photos, and videos on the Biorenewables Research Laboratory Website.

Iowa Governor Signs Renewable Chemical Tax Credit Bill

Iowa Govenor Terry Branstad has signed a tax credit bill aimed at accelerating development of biorenewable chemicals in the state of Iowa. In attendance at the signing were Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham, and several Iowa legislators. The event took place in Sukup Atrium in Iowa State University’s Biorenewables Complex.

[PHOTO]Governor Branstad signs tax credit biillIowa Governor Terry Branstad (sitting) signs a tax credit bill aimed at growing the state’s commercial biorenewable enterprises.

In March, the bill passed the Iowa Senate with a vote of 46-3 and the Iowa House by a count of 95-1. The credit will create an income tax credit equal to 5¢ per pound of qualified chemicals produced. It allows new businesses (those operating less than five years) up to $1 million, while existing businesses can receive $500,000. The credit is limited to $10 million per fiscal year in total awards.

Whitepaper Outlines Biorenewables Opportunities

A whitepaper, “Biobased Chemicals: The Iowa Opportunity,” helped inform Iowa’s leaders on how statewide economic development incentives could address the unique needs of the budding industry. It showed how Iowa could emerge as a leader in biorenewable chemical investment and job creation in coming years.

The report, released by Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor and the Iowa Biotechnology Association, was written by Jill Euken, deputy director of the Bioeconomy Institute; Dermot Hayes, a professor of economics; and Brent Shanks, director of the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) and a Distinguished Professor of chemical and biological engineering.

“We’re pleased our report helped state leaders see the importance of tax credits as a way to incent growth of new commercial biorenewable enterprises,” Euken said. “It is part of our land-grant mission to conduct research that helps inform public policy.”

New Proposal Manager Focused on Service

[PHOTO]Kristin DoerderInterest and certification in research administration has led Kristin Doerder to the Bioeconomy Institute, where she was named proposal manager in December 2015. “Full proposal preparation is new to me but it’s one of the reasons I was attracted to the position,” Doerder says.

Doerder provides pre-award service and proposal preparation assistance for BEI faculty, staff, and affiliates. She has already submitted several grant proposals in her short time at BEI.

With a degree in accounting from Iowa State University, Doerder has spent her career here as well. She has had stints with the departments of genetics, development, and cell biology and English, working as an accountant and also assisting with grants and proposals. She then moved on to College of Liberal Arts, where she worked on research projects and grants. More recently, she was with the Iowa Soybean Research Center, helping the new center get established when it began in 2014.

Interdisciplinary Research Proposals

In 2015, Doerder passed the Certified Research Administrators exam to earn CRA certification. The Research Administrators Certification Council administers the program, which provides formal recognition of basic knowledge in the field.

Doerder says the proposal manager position combines her accounting background and ability to build budgets with her project management skills. “I enjoy working with our fantastic faculty and interdisciplinary teams,” she says, adding that she is working to get up to speed on the wide-ranging BEI-affiliated faculty.

Indeed, many BEI proposals are complex and require collaboration of a number of researchers. For instance, Doerder is currently working on a proposal that requires three or more disciplines and will involve contributors from outside Iowa State.

BEI business manager Becky Staedtler says BEI is happy to have Doerder on its team. “Kristin has not only an accounting background, but years of experience dealing with different aspects of proposal submissions at ISU,” she says. “The proposal manager at BEI is critical because without proposals, there are no awards, and without funding, it would be impossible to achieve our mission.”

Doerder adds, “All proposals are unique. I like the variety of work, the challenge of working with different funding agencies, and the reward of obtaining new funding for Iowa State.”

Doerder’s office is in 1140B Biorenewables Research Laboratory. She can be reached at, 515-294-6711.


Bioeconomy Institute trading card