Iowa State named partner in bioenergy research center funded by U.S. Department of Energy

Tara Larson

Iowa State University was recently named a partner institution in a bioenergy research center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

This new project is led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and there are 16 total institutions including Iowa State involved. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant is totaled to $104 million spread across each partner involved. Iowa State will receive $5.5 million of the total budget.

The purpose of the project is to study the next generation of plant-based, cost-effective, sustainable, biofuels and bioproducts, according to an Iowa State news release.

“We’re looking at the sustainability piece but the larger center is looking at the whole bioeconomy,” Dr. Andy VanLoocke, assistant professor of agronomy said.

More specifically, Iowa State’s portion of the project is to research and grow new crops to ideally replace fossil resources.

“The purpose of the center [is to] help us move from fossil sources of not only energy, but also bioproducts,” Dr. Emily Heaton, associate professor of agronomy said.

Although the university will not be constructing a new building, there will be fields designated for the team’s research needs. Besides Heaton and VanLoocke, Adina Howe, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, is a part of the trio team. The three plan on hiring a few undergraduate students and post-doctoral students to assist in research.

After learning about the grant, Heaton and others from the department began the next steps to be considered as a partner by the DOE. They came up with a plan for the grant money and wrote proposals to become a candidate. After being selected as a finalist, Heaton travelled to Washington D.C. to interview for the grant.

Heaton and VanLoocke felt as though Iowa State was chosen as part of this center due to the fact that the school has a superior staff and agriculture program, as well as high quality soil to test these ideas out on.

“We know that Iowa’s been a great place to grow crops, so it makes sense that this is a great place to grow new crops, too,” VanLoocke said.

If the team reaches the goals they currently have, the new biofuels and bioproducts could be beneficial to a variety of things, such as Iowa agriculture.

“The new crops we’re talking about working on have the potential to really improve soil and water quality in Iowa, and that will help protect the natural resource space on which the state depends,” Heaton said.

The project is scheduled to launch in December, and last until 2022, pending Congressional appropriation.