New Professor Takes Broad View of Energy

[PHOTO]Yu WangIt may seem an unlikely career path, but Yu Wang feels her new position as a political science professor is logical extension of her background in environmental engineering. “If you want to look at energy problems more broadly and you want to look at how people can change their behavior, their consumption behavior, how do you do that?” Wang asked. “That’s how I ended up looking at policy.”

Wang is an assistant professor of global energy policy at Iowa State University. She began in that position in the fall of 2014. It’s a unique role at Iowa State and perhaps even the nation, the result of a collaboration between the Bioeconomy Institute (BEI) and Iowa State’s department of political science. The new position was created with support by Iowa State’s Presidential High Impact Hires Initiative, the State of Iowa’s “Leading the Bioeconomy” program, BEI, and Iowa NSF EPSCoR.

David Peterson, a professor of political science at Iowa State and Wang’s mentor in the department, explained that her appointment presents an exciting opportunity for the political science department.  “Obviously biorenewable energy is one of the biggest challenges facing Iowa, the U.S., and the world,” he said. “The Department of Political Science here at ISU is fortunate to have one of the leading experts on this topic.  Dr. Wang is a valuable addition to the department.”

From Environmental Engineering to Political Science

Wang studied environmental engineering in her native country of China. “I was looking at issues like the health impact from blood mercury and environmental hormones in wastewater and air pollution,” she said. From those studies, Wang came to the conclusion that many of these issues were the result of excessive consumption of fossil fuels, and the solution was to get people to change their behavior when it comes to energy usage.

The contrast in studying policy in the U.S. versus that of China has been interesting to Wang. “When studying policies here in the U.S., I actually get a better sense of how policies are made and how policies can change people’s behavior,” she said. “The purpose of policy is to change people’s behavior.” And now as a political science professor, Wang looks for insight into how these policies impact the economy and society in general.

Wang earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy from Georgia Institute of Technology, and an M.S. in Environmental Science and Engineering and B.S. in Natural Resources & Environment from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. While at Georgia Tech, she was named the “Outstanding Ph.D. Student” in the School of Public Policy.

At Iowa State, Wang is team-teaching two classes with Mark Wright, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. One set of classes (BRT/Pol S 515 and BRT/Pol S 516) are being taught as part of the Biorenewable Resources and Technology graduate program. These classes focus on biorenewables law and policy. “I’m teaching the policies for energy and chemical products from biomass,” Wang said, adding that the course also reviews fuel pathways and nascent technologies. There are two versions of the class, one that focuses on the American states, and another that covers not only policies in the U. S. but also those in European Union countries, Brazil, China and South Africa. “It’s a broad, global perspective of policies,” she said.

Another class, Economics and Policy of Engineered Energy Systems (ME 510X), is a mechanical engineering course and covers some of the same topics, extending to conventional fossil fuel, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and transportation fuels, but more from a U.S. prospective and with an emphasis on connections with engineering.

Wright is impressed with this fellow teacher.  “Dr. Wang brings a unique perspective to our BRT and ME courses by virtue of her background in energy policy.” He adds that her vast knowledge helps students connect the complex relationships between government, industry, and consumer markets. “BRT/POL 516 and ME 510 benefit in particular from Dr. Wang’s understanding of international energy policy. Students praise her ability to explain the energy policy-making process to a broad audience,” he said. Peterson adds, “Dr. Wang is teaching some really cool classes on biorenewable policy. These are great classes and students have responded really well.”

Two Directions in Energy Policy Research

Wang has also begun an ambitious research effort. One area is focused on energy efficiency and policies for energy efficiency. “This is actually an expansion of my dissertation topic,” she said. “I’m looking at policies to decouple utility companies’ revenues from sales. Through decoupling, you can actually motivate utility companies to do more in energy efficiency,” Wang said.

In another research thrust, Wang is studying the current market for biofuels production in China. “I’m looking at the demand, the potential, and the challenges to this emerging market,” Wang said. Ultimately, she wants to see if there’s potential for the U.S. and China to trade biofuels, in particular, for China to import ethanol from the U.S. Midwest. Wang explained that the motivation for China to use more ethanol is to reduce pollution. This project has received seed grant funding, but Wang hopes to get more support for a large-scale research project.

Writing the Book on Energy Efficiency Policy

In addition to teaching and research, Wang is also the author of a book for the first time. “Green Savings – How Policies and Markets Drive Energy Efficiency,” will be published in September. Along with co-author Marilyn Brown of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Wang asserts in the book that reducing energy consumption should be a frontline strategy to address global climate change, threats to energy security, and the challenge of grid reliability. The authors argue that policies motivating greater investment in energy efficiency should be a priority, and that states and countries can learn from their leaders.

[BOOK COVER]Green SavingsYu Wang, a new professor of global energy policy at Iowa State, is the author of “Green Savings,” a book about policy and energy efficiency, slated to be published in September 2015. UPDATE, Oct, 2015: The book has been published and is available from Praeger Press.

The book provides innovative perspectives on energy production, new technology, policymaking, user behavior, and how these features all play critical roles in determining the best plan of action to address the global challenge of climate mitigation. It’s aimed at policy makers, utility planners, practitioners, students —about anyone interested in energy. Brown, a nationally-known expert in energy policy and climate change, was Wang’s advisor at Georgia Tech.

Quick Transition from Student to Faculty

Wang noted that it’s been a quick transition from being a college student to becoming a faculty member. “But I found that ISU provides a very supportive, very friendly environment for junior faculty,” she said. She attended a series of workshops that teach new faculty about managing research, enhancing their teaching ability, and how to balance private life and work. “I found that very helpful,” Wang said. She added that she’s actively searching for interdisciplinary research partners at BEI and throughout the university.

Peterson concurs that Wang is adapting well to her faculty position. “Dr. Wang’s adjustment seems to be going incredibly well,” he said. “The transition is always a bit rough; moving to a new town, teaching new classes, getting a new research agenda started.  Given all of that, she is fitting in the department really well,” he said.

Workshop Provides Solutions for Biorefineries

Experts in biomass processing facilities came together at the Energy Manufacturing Workshop 2015 in Colorado on May 2015. The purpose of the workshop was to present a vision for new ways of building biorefineries. One of the conference organizers was Mark Mba-Wright,an assistance professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, a BEI affiliate, and a researcher with the Iowa NSF EPSCoR program.

“The notion today is that, if you want to build a biorefinery, you have to start from this large facility that takes a year, a year and a half to build,” Wright said. “We think we could build them the same way you build planes or engines today. You have a single facility that puts biorefineries together and ships them to the consumer, farmer or company.”

The main idea is that building a manufacturing plant to produce many modules to be deployed to multiple locations would be more beneficial than creating larger, more expensive biomass processing plants. “Traditionally, bigger is cheaper,” said Jill Euken, director of external engagement for Iowa NSF EPSCoR. “But bigger isn’t always cheaper when it comes to low bulk density biomass or stranded resources like natural gas that don’t have any way to be shipped.”

The workshop was sponsored through the state of Iowa, and participants were students and faculty from all around the United States, representatives from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, industrial partners, and several national laboratories. The workshop targeted the areas of energy systems and manufacturing. There were over 30 participants, of which about seven were from the manufacturing side. Jonathon Male, Director of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO, U.S. Dept. of Energy) was one of the workshop speakers.

Learn more about the workshop

[PHOTO]Energy Manufacturing Workshop 2015Participants in the 2015 Energy Manufacturing Workshop

Challenges Face the Bio-Based Industry

“The bio-based industry faces a large challenge,” Wright said. “Petroleum prices are very low; it just seems like we are stuck using many of these fossil fuels.”

Wright explained that although ethanol is being produced, the second generation of biofuels is still too expensive. Fresh ideas are needed in order to reduce their cost and to deploy them widely. The workshop explored some of those ideas. The big question being asked is, “how can we reduce the cost of producing biofuels and create bioenergy systems that can be replicated anywhere in the world?”

Currently, biomass shipping is costs too much for farmers to want to send it to a centralized location to be processed. “When you think about biomass resources like corn stocks, they are so widely dispersed that when you try to build a big plant, you spend so much money collecting it and hauling it to centralized facilities that it is hard to make the economics work,” Euken said. “If you had smaller and spread out modules, you would only have to haul stuff a short distance.”

“We as a country are in need of finding ways to lower the cost of biofuels,” Wright said. “The energy manufacturing program believes the way to do that is to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing.”

Based on an article by Kathryn Titus. Reprinted from Iowa NSF EPSCoR

Ceramic Work Named Best-in-Show at Biorenewables Art Competition

[PHOTO]Almost AntiqueA set of ceramic “fuel containers” by Heather Whittlesey was named “best in show” for the 2015 Biorenewables Art Competition, held in the Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL) on the Iowa State University campus. “‘Almost Antique’ is a humorous statement about how we store household fuels today,” Whittlesey wrote in her statement to accompany the piece. The work, which includes ceramic representations of a propane tank, gas can, and  hand torch, won $750 for Whittlesey, a graduate student in art and design at Iowa State. Her work becomes part of the BRL’s permanent art collection.

Other winners were Sarah Reagan for “Fricken’ Fracking Box,” a wooden piece that earned her first place and $350; Riley Eveleth for “Homage to Aaron Fink,” a collage that won second place and $250; and Madison Haws for “We Often Forget,” a mixed media piece that took third place and $150.

The jurors also gave honorable mention to Alyssa Campbell for “Horse and Snapping Turtle Skulls with Flowers,” a charcoal drawing; and Nicholas A. Martinez, for “Maus Redefined,” a stoneware piece. Although not prize winners, the jurors thought these two pieces merited special recognition.

Reflecting the Bioeconomy Institute’s Mission

The competition was open to Iowa State students enrolled in Integrated Studio Arts/Integrated Visual Arts ( ISA/IVA) courses. The goal of the event is to create artwork that reflects the Bioeconomy Institute’s mission, which is economic, environmental and social sustainability to advance development of biorenewable resources for the production of materials, fuels, energy, and chemicals. The prizes are sponsored by Robert C. Brown, BEI director.

[PHOTO]Heather Whittlesey

Heather Whittlsey with her best-in-show entry, “Almost Antique.”

Jurors for the 2015 competition were Sara Merritt, Mary Holze, and Patrick Johnston. Merritt is a educational specialist at Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens and is vice president of the Ames Community Arts Council. She has an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.  Holtze is an adjunct art professor at Des Moines Area Community College, where she teaches fundamentals in drawing and life drawing. She has also teaches adult drawing classes at the Des Moines Art Center.

Holtze has a B.S./Medical Technology degree from the University of Iowa and a BFA and an MFA/Integrated Visual Arts from Iowa State University. Johnston is a research scientist at the Bioeconomy Institute (BEI), with 15 years of experience in research and development of biorenewable products. He’s currently working on his Ph.D. at Iowa State.

Biorenewables Art on Exhibit Through March 2016

The winning works of art, along with all 20 entries in this year’s competition, will be displayed in the lobby of the BRL on the Iowa State campus until March 2016. You can view all of the artwork online in a presentation “Prezi.” The permanent BRL art collection can be viewed in the BRL administration offices, 1140 BRL.

BEI Launches “Opening Doors” Campaign

The Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University has launched its “opening doors to the bioeconomy” campaign to raise awareness of its research, education, and engagement capabilities, especially among potential industry, academic, and government partners.

[IMAGE]BEI Innovation Iowa Ad

The initial push is a two-page advertisement in the Innovation Iowa, an annual magazine that highlights Iowa companies and organizations and their technological achievements. The publication reports on recent achievements and what the future holds for biotechnology in Iowa, including bioscience and agriculture, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. View a PDF of the ad

A companion Web page delves deeper into BEI’s many advantages. These include its focus on the entire bioproducts supply chain, long history of collaborating with other academic departments, institutes, federal agencies, and industry; and world-leading thermochemical conversion research. BEI also benefits from being located in the heart of Iowa’s “Cultivation Coordidor.” The institute also works to educate tomorrow’s scientists and engineers and has world-class facilities in which to conduct its research.

The “opening doors” message is also featured in BEI’s unique Opening Doors Brochure  (PDF; large file) and in an animated presentation (below).

BEI Sponsors tcbiomass2015 Conference

[LOLGO]tcbiomass2015The Bioeconomy Institute has announced its sponsorship of tcbiomass2015, the fourth international conference on thermochemical biomass conversion science, to be held Nov. 2-5, 2015. BEI expects more than 20 of its faculty, scientists, staff, and students will be attending the conference, many of which will present papers and posters about their research.

“Iowa State University usually has the largest presence of any educational institution at this important event in our industry,” said Robert C. Brown, BEI director and professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State. “It’s a great chance to show our leadership in thermochemical conversion research to industry and government.”

Driving the Bioeconomy

The conference should attract over 300 attendees from around the world. It brings together experts in biomass pretreatment, gasification, pyrolysis, and upgrading. The biennial conference will take place at the Westin Chicago River North in Chicago, IL.

The theme for this year’s event is “Technology for the Bioeconomy.” It will cover developments in the conversion of renewable resources into a variety of fuels, chemicals and energy products, which is driving the emergence of an increasingly diverse and significant bioeconomy. Thermochemical processes that employ heat and pressure extract maximum product yields from biomass resources.

Abstracts Due April 10, 2015

Researchers, scientists, engineers, technicians, and others are encouraged to submit abstracts by April 10, 2015. See for more information.

Bioeconomy Institute trading card