Bioenergy FAQ

[PHOTO]Biomass
Some perennial grasses that can be used for biofuel are tall and dense.

What is bioenergy?

Bioenergy is renewable and sustainable electricity and fuel made from organic materials in our biosphere.

Why are we producing biofuels?

Biofuels often come from agricultural sources and are a sustainable resource that can use existing energy infrastructure and have the potential to lessen our dependence on non-renewable resources such as mined oil, gas, and coal.

Why is bioenergy research part of Iowa NSF EPSCoR?

Although bioenergy technology has improved significantly, there are a lot of unknown factors about integrating bioenergy into our energy system. Iowa NSF EPSCoR researchers focus on Iowa’s energy context, in which bioenergy from crop sources will likely be important.

What specific areas of bioenergy is Iowa NSF EPSCoR researching?

Our researchers investigate how to sustainably produce, transport, and store large quantities of bioenergy crops and new engineering methods to convert these crops into energy and other desirable products.

Why Iowa?

Iowa has some of the best farmland in the country; 90% of Iowa’s land is used for agriculture. Bioenergy crops could improve some of that land. Iowa has agricultural, industrial, and research infrastructure and an energy research legacy. citation

How does this work relate to other bioenergy research in Iowa?

Our researchers partner with industry and other organizations that support bioenergy research such as the Iowa State University Bioeconomy Institute, CenUSA Bioenergy, the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), and the Iowa Energy Center.

Does the production of biofuels compete with the production of food and drive up food costs?

[PHJOTO]Biofuels research
Iowa NSF EPSCoR engineers research options for bioenergy production paths.
We must add energy crops to our food and feed agriculture while maintaining our land quality and production levels. Good land management techniques that select the best crop for the landscape can increase yield while lessening the environmental impact. We are also developing methods to produce biofuels from inedible parts of food crops, non-food plants, and on land unsuitable for conventional farming.

Are we already producing about all the ethanol our country can use?

Even though ethanol usage requirements in the U.S. renewable fuel standards change over time, the U.S. exports our extra ethanol to countries such as Canada and Mexico. The U.S. will likely export over 1 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014. † citation

Does the production of biofuels use more energy than it creates?

Any process that converts one form of energy (like biomass or petroleum) into another form (like ethanol or gasoline) loses some energy in the process. That is, no energy conversion process is 100% efficient and all have room for improvement. Thanks to ongoing research, the amount of energy required to produce biofuels is steadily decreasing.

Why are there so many engineers involved in bioenergy research?

Engineers develop and test the ways we can convert biomass into energy and other products. They also identify how these conversion systems work and the products they create. This basic knowledge is still being investigated.

Why are there agronomists interested in bioenergy research?

Bioenergy crop farming holds great potential for the redevelopment of rural Iowa. However we must be smart in how we farm these crops. Agronomists study the interactions of these crops and their harvest on the soil, water, and general environment.