Bioenergy Legacy

[PHOTO]Pyrolysis pilot plant
Researchers supported by Iowa NSF EPSCoR helped advance the technology of fast pryolysis, used to convert biomass into fuels and chemicals. This pyrolysis pilot plant is installed at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm.
The Iowa NSF EPSCoR bioenergy platform investigated both the challenges of producing large quantities of biomass in a sustainable manner and the best ways to transport, store and utilize biomass within the current infrastructure built in the last century to exploit fossil energy resources. These are just a few highlights of the many efforts by the researchers, staff, and students from this platform.

Accomplishments

[IMAGE]Biomass sustainability
A dedicated energy crop, Miscanthus x giganteus (Miscanthus), will be established on 2,500 acres in Iowa to produce 22,500 tons of sustainable and renewable biopower feedstock to replace a portion of the University’s coal supply.
A collaboration between Iowa State University and the University of Iowa is aiming to reduce the UI’s carbon footprint by 40 percent by 2020. As part of this project, the UI is establishing 2,500 acres of miscanthus to use as an energy crop.Iowa State is working with industry partners to commercialize pyrolysis technology advanced in part by Iowa NSF EPSCoR. The effort will produce bio-oil for co-firing at the Iowa State power plant as well as sugars that can be fermented into solvent butanol. The biochar produced in this effort will be applied to croplands to demonstrate carbon-negative energy.

Open source thermochemical conversion software was developed to design and optimize thermochemical reactors. This code has been validated and disseminated and is now freely available for download from the Web.

[PHOTO]Algae greenhouse
The Algal Production Greenhouse was built at Iowa State University with support from Iowa NSF EPSCoR. With it, researchers will study novel ways to increase the efficiency of growing algae and provide large quantities of algae to bioenergy researchers.
An innovative algal production facility funded in part by Iowa NSF EPSCoR is being used as a research platform for various studies at municipal water treatment plants for energy and nutrient recovery.

Sustainability

Long-term agro-ecological studies will continue at the three bioenergy research sites in Iowa.

[PHOTO]Big Creek Watershed
The Big Creek watershed near Ames, Iowa, serves as an outdoor laboratory for Iowa NSF EPSCoR researchers to study the interactions between biomass production systems and hydrology.
Enhanced biofuel production efforts carry on through an advanced manufacturing initiative exploring intensification and modularization of chemical reactors.Iowa State University is leading the biomass deconstruction area of a proposed U.S. Dept. of Energy Bioenergy Center being headed by Pacific Northwest National Labs.

The bioenergy team at Iowa State has teamed with industry partners to demonstrate carbon-negative energy based on biomass pyrolysis and biochar sequestration.The Long-term Assessment of Miscanthus Productivity and Sustainability (LAMPS) project, a collaboration between Iowa State, University of Iowa, and several industrial partners, is now established. Miscanthus is a promising bioenergy crop.

Professional Development

Click on a person to read about the role these researchers played in Iowa NSF EPSCoR and how the program helped develop their careers and further their research.

  • Robert Brown
    Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, and Director, Bioeconomy Institute
    Iowa State University
    Robert Brown
    Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, and Director, Bioeconomy Institute

    Brown was the principal investigator for the Iowa NSF EPSCoR project its first two years and was co-leader of the bioenergy platform responsible for the biomass logistics and conversion effort. He researched thermochemical conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals, both at the bench scale and the pilot scale.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR enhanced Brown’s analytical capability through shared instrumentation, helped him network and build new research initiatives, and provided opportunities to mentor junior faculty.

  • Song‐Charng Kong
    Professor, Mechanical Engineering
    Iowa State University
    Song‐Charng Kong
    Professor, Mechanical Engineering

    Kong developed a computational framework for simulating biomass thermochemical reactors.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR extended Kong’s research areas to biorenewable energy and provided high‐performance computing facilities. It also helped Kong establish numerical algorithms for large‐scale computations in multiphase reacting flows. Preliminary results have led to two grants.

  • David Laird
    Professor, Agronomy
    Iowa State University
    David Laird
    Professor, Agronomy

    Laird was the co-leader of the bioenergy platform responsible for agriculture effort in Iowa NSF EPSCoR. His research advanced basic knowledge of biochar mechanisms and processes and the practical understanding of biochar impacts on cropping systems. He also studied systems modeling to integrate understanding and develop practical tools.

    Through Iowa NSF EPSCoR, Laird built a transdisciplinary team that worked across molecular to regional scales on sustainable bioenergy systems.  The program lead to increased success with large competitive grants and publications advancing science, and provided the opportunity to mentor junior faculty, post‐docs, and students.

  • David Vigil
    Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering
    Iowa State University
    David Vigil
    Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering

    Vigil developed a comprehensive computational tool for modeling and optimizing algal photobioreactors.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR provided computational resources and a non‐intrusive dissolved oxygen sensor for model validation. The program also allowed him to employ an undergraduate student in his research and led to new collaborations.

  • Zhiyou Wen
    Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
    Iowa State University
    Zhiyou Wen
    Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition

    Wen studied syngas fermentation for production of fuels and chemicals, working to enhance mass transfer efficiency and tracking the metabolic pathway of alcohol‐producing bacteria. He researched microalgae cultivation for energy feedstock and water/air remediation. Wen also developed a biofilm-based photobioreactor design.

    Through Iowa NSF EPSCoR, Wen was able to strengthen research infrastructures, including building an algal research facility at ISU BioCentury Research Farm.  He also secured grants/contracts from the National Science Foundation, the Danish Strategic Research Council, the Chicago Water District, and Regent Innovation Fund Program development to continue his research.

  • Xianglan Bai
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering
    Iowa State University
    Xianglan Bai
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

    Bai researched pyrolysis of lignin to biobased products and production of sugars from biomass using solvent liquefaction.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR helped Bai purchase a micropyrolyzer with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer and support a Ph.D. student.

  • Kenneth Elgersma
    Assistant Professor, Biology
    University of Northern Iowa
    Kenneth Elgersma
    Assistant Professor, Biology

    Elgersma studied carbon cycling and sequestration using empirical methods for grasslands and modeling for wetlands.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR supported undergraduate and graduate students, facilitated collaborations with Iowa State and UI faculty, and resulted in several papers.

  • Kristie J. Franz
    Associate Professor, Geological and Atmospheric Sciences
    Iowa State University
    Kristie J. Franz
    Associate Professor, Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

    Franz worked to improve hydrologic modeling for better assessment of land use and climate change impacts, and short‐ to long-term prediction.

    Because of her Iowa NSF EPSCoR work, Franz was able to get a grant to study radar data assimilation and distributed hydrologic modeling for improved flood forecasts. She also won the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Early Achievement in Research, Iowa State University.

  • Emily Heaton
    Associate Professor, Agronomy
    Iowa State University
    Emily Heaton
    Associate Professor, Agronomy

    Heaton’s research focused on plant, plot, and landscape scale questions on plants, the enfiroment, and social and economic interactions.

    Through Iowa NSF EPSCoR, Heaton continued her research and developed collaborators.  One result is the Long-term Assessment of Miscanthus Productivity and Sustainability (LAMPS) project, a collaboration between Iowa State, University of Iowa, and several industrial partners. Miscanthus is a promising bioenergy crop.

  • Laura Jarboe
    Associate Professor, Chemical & Biological Engineering
    Iowa State University
    Laura Jarboe
    Associate Professor, Chemical & Biological Engineering

    Jarboe’s group developed robust biocatalysts for the production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals.

    Through Iowa NSF EPSCoR, Jarboe was able to purchase a microplate reader, which enables high-throughput analysis of microbial growth. She also attended professional conferences and gave presentations. The EPSCoR program helped her secure funding from the NSF.

  • Marc Linderman
    Associate Professor
    University of Iowa
    Marc Linderman
    Associate Professor

    Linderman studied hyperspectral monitoring and spatial analyses to support bioenergy crop assessments, watershed modeling, estimating wind energy impacts, and conservation area monitoring through research on data mining methods, lidar-hyperspectral fusion, and object-based applications.

    The program assisted Linderman in the purchase of headwall visible and near-infrared (VNIR) and near-infrared (NIR) aerial spectrometers, IMU/GPS, and a hyperspectral data processing unit. It also helped him engage undergraduate and graduate students and find collaborators.

  • Mark Meyers
    Associate Professor, Biology
    University of Northern Iowa
    Mark Meyers
    Associate Professor, Biology

    Myers’ research team at the Tallgrass Prairie Center determined optimal methods for managing native tallgrass prairie species as agroenergy crops while maintaining high-quality habitat for wildlife.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR supported purchases of field equipment and student travel to scientific meetings and conferences.

  • James Michael
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering
    Iowa State University
    James Michael
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

    Michael studied biomass conversion using local, in situ measurements. He developed optical and spectroscopic tools for temperature and local species identification. Michael also studied physical/chemical mechanism identification.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR provided support for development of optically accessible biomass reactors for fundamental studies of physicochemical mechanisms as well as for optical and spectroscopic tools and systems for studies of biomass conversion.

  • Al Ratner
    Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering
    University of Iowa
    Al Ratner
    Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering

    Ratner’s researched focused on better understanding biomass gasification so that both the gasifier and plant material can be tuned to produce the most energy and the best biochar. Experiments and simulations helped identify the chemistry, fluid mechanics, and other processes that determine the outcome.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR enabled industrial-to-research transition, provided micro gas-chromatograph and other equipment, and supported training and travel.

  • Zengyi Shao
    Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering
    Iowa State University
    Zengyi Shao
    Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering

    Shao engineered individual microorganisms and microbial consortia to address critical issues in energy sustainability and chemical production. Sher also started the “Bacteria Club,” a STEM program for 3rd and 4th graders.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR helped Shao establishing her research group, including postdoc, Ph.D. students, and undergraduates. It also led to new collaborations.

  • Mark Sherrard
    Assistant Professor, Biology
    University of Northern Iowa
    Mark Sherrard
    Assistant Professor, Biology

    Sherrard’s lab studied the feasibility and benefits of growing high-diversity prairie mixtures for bioenergy.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR funded equipment purchases. The equipment was used to collect data so student researchers could prepare tissue samples for elemental nitrogen analysis.

  • JP Tessonnier
    Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering
    Iowa State University
    JP Tessonnier
    Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering

    Tessonnier studied heterogeneous catalysis for biomass conversion to chemicals, catalytic fast pyrolysis of biomass to aromatics. His research focused on rational catalyst design Zeolite catalysts with controlled porosity and surface chemistry.

    The Iowa NSF EPSCoR program fostered collaborations with other bioenergy researchers, additional funding from Iowa Energy Center, and networking with industry. The program also supported the purchase of new equipment to further Tessonnier’s research.

  • Javier Vela‐Becerra
    Associate Professor, Chemistry
    Iowa State University
    Javier Vela‐Becerra
    Associate Professor, Chemistry

    Vela-Becerra’s work for Iowa NSF EPSCoR focused on development of nano‐heterostructured, zeolite‐supported catalysts with enhanced selectivity and yield for fast lignin pyrolysis.

    With Iowa NSF EPSCoR seed funding, Vela-Becerra was able to support a student who went on to receive her Ph.D. The program also provided him access to new collaborators and equipment.

  • Mark Mba Wright
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering
    Iowa State University
    Mark Mba Wright
    Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering

    Wright conducted life cycle techno‐economic (TEA) and environmental analysis (LCA) of biomass conversion technologies.

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR provided funds to support biomass conversion, LCA, and policy analysis, including graduate student. Wright won the Black & Veatch Building a World of Difference Faculty Fellow Award during his Iowa NSF EPSCoR time. He also secured a grant from ARPA-E to study catalytic autothermal pyrolysis.

cog

Infrastructure Investments

Click on an image to learn more about the equipment and how it improves research.

  • Algae Greenhouse
    Algae Greenhouse

    Greenhouse encompasses algal production systems of various kinds, allowing in sun while maintaining temperatures needed for algae growth year-round.

    Partially funded by Iowa NSF EPSCoR, the greenhouse is used to study novel ways to increase the efficiency of growing algae and provide large quantities of algae to bioenergy researchers. 

  • Hyperspectral Imaging System
    Hyperspectral Imaging System

    Hyperspectral imaging allows researchers to capture invisible light from across the electromagnetic spectrum. In the Iowa NSF EPSCoR program, this system was flown in a small plane to capture data about soils and vegetation.

    From maps created from this data, farmers can modify their practices according to their individual farm’s needs, deciding, for example, if and where to grow perennial biorenewables. The system has also been used to analyze how wind turbines affect nearby crops.

  • Mass Spectrometer
    Mass Spectrometer

    Iowa NSF EPSCoR covered part of the cost of a Waters mass spectrometer (the lower third in the photo). This instrument is used to detect and quantify reaction products formed during the aqueous phase conversion of cellulosic sugars to renewable chemicals.

    The instrument allowed researchers to investigate new technologies to convert biomass into chemicals.

  • Microwave Reaction System
    Microwave Reaction System

    The CEM Mars 6 microwave reaction system uses microwaves to synthesize new substances.

    This instrument enabled Iowa NSF EPSCoR researchers to synthesize hierarchical zeolite-based catalysts for biomass processing.

  • Optically Accessible Pyrolysis Reactor
    Optically Accessible Pyrolysis Reactor

    The optically accessible pyrolysis reactor allows direct observation of products and intermediates during pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass samples. The reactor permits independent control of sample heating rates and durations to simulate conditions of large scale pyrolysis reactors. The cell handles a variety of laser and optical diagnostic tools to characterize pyrolysis products. The pictured system is configured for high-speed laser scattering and the resulting images show maps of condensed products (red) and laser-induced fluorescence of aerosol formation (green).

    The optically accessible pyrolysis reactor allowed researchers to implement and develop a variety of high speed laser and optical diagnostics to study the fundamentals of biomass fast pyrolysis. The multi-sided optical access and variable heating rate platform enable identification of phase information critical to identifying mass transport limitations and pathways, and will continue to provide a platform for the study of biomass pyrolysis.

  • Particle Analyzer
    Particle Analyzer

    The Malvern ZetaSizer NanoZS particle analyzer was used by Iowa NSF EPSCoR researchers to determine the particle size and surface charge of catalyst particles.

    The instrument helped provide new insights into catalysis processes used to convert biomass into chemicals.

  • Portable Infrared Gas Analyzer
    Portable Infrared Gas Analyzer

    A portable infrared gas analyzer allows for field measurement of photosynthetic gas exchange and electron transport.

    This instrument, along with many others provided by the Iowa NSF EPSCoR program, allows researchers to study plant, plot, and landscape-scale questions, helping to increase biomass yield for bioenergy applications while enhancing the natural resource base.

  • River Stage Sensor
    River Stage Sensor

    This field sensor is installed on a bridge to measure the water level of a river or creek.

    The sensor was used at Iowa NSF EPSCoR Big Creek BAER site to monitor water levels part of research on the impact of growing biomass.

  • Tandem Micropyrolyzer with GC/MS system
    Tandem Micropyrolyzer with GC/MS system

    A micropyrolyzer heats a tiny sample in the absence of oxygen. Pyrolysis is a key technology used to convert biomass into fuels and chemicals. A gas chromatography/mass spectrometry system identifies different substances within a sample.

    This integrated system allows researchers to quickly and accurately conduct pyrolysis experiments over a multiple of conditions and with a variety of biomass and evaluate the products of pyrolysis.

Broader Impacts

[LOGO]TCS2014
Iowa NSF EPSCoR cosponsored TCS 2014, The Symposium on Thermal and Catalytic Sciences for Biofuels and Biobased Products, in Denver. It was attended by more than 200 researchers from around the world.
Symposium on Thermal and Chemical Sciences for Biofuels and Biobased Products (TCS 2014), Denver, CO, Sept. 2014.Workshop on Carbon Negative Energy, Denver, CO, Sept. 2014.Three consecutive Hybrid Processing Workshops, 2013 – 2015.Workshop on Modular Manufacturing for Chemical Processing, Denver, CO, Spring 2015.Workshop for faculty in chemistry on research problems in thermochemical processing, Ames, IA, May 2015.

Stakeholder workshop on providing biomass to the University of Iowa (UI) power plant, Iowa City, IA, August 2015.

For More Information

[POSTER]Iowa NSF EPSCoR bioenergy
This poster highlights a few of the success stories from the Iowa NSF EPSCoR bionergy platform.
This page represents only a few highlights of the bioenergy platform. See the Bioenergy main page.

Contact researchers who worked on the Iowa NSF EPSCoR Bioenergy platform.