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CenUSA Bioenergy researches biofuels system


February 24, 2013
Messenger News

AMES - A $25 million grant for biofuels research was awarded from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Iowa State University in August 2011 and is considered the largest single grant ever received by ISU.

The project, CenUSA Bioenergy, has now entered in its second of five years for the research project of investigating the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels system.

Ken Moore, professor of agriculture and life sciences at ISU, is the project's director. His duties are to facilitate the work of the project and to essentially ensure the research teams have everything they need. He is also in charge of project administration.

Article Photos

-Submitted photo
Kevin Shinners, CenUSA project co-director, harvests prairie grasses. CenUSA?is funded by the largest single grant ever received by Iowa State University, a $25 million grant awarded from the USDA. The project is researching the creation of a Midwestern sustainable biofuels system. It involves nine teams with a total of more than 100 people in multiple states.

ISU, along with Purdue University; University of Wisconsin, Madison; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; University of Illinois, Champaign; University of Vermont-Burlington and the USDA Agricultural Research Service make up the network that are, according to CenUSA Bioenergy, investing in a regional system for producing fuels from feedstocks derived from potentially high biomass producing herbaceous perennials using the pyrolytic conversion process.

"The focus is to grow perennial energy crops on land that is not well suited for row crops," said Moore.

Moore said there are nine separate objective research areas being focused on in the study.

"This is a multi-state project with over 100 people involved, nine teams and team leads," said Moore. "I enjoy interacting with these people and they take the responsibility for what they'll say and do and they deliver. They are the best of the best."

The nine CenUSA program areas are:

Feedstock Development, which is led by USDA-Agricultural Research Service employees Ken Vogel and Mike Casl er, has a goal to develop improved perennial grass cultivars and hybrids that can be used on marginal cropland in the Central United States for the production of biomass for bioenergy. They have chosen native grasses, Moore said, including switchgrass, bluestem and Indian grasses.

"All three of those are native to Iowa and are very adaptive here, they want to be here," said Moore.

Harvest of these feedstocks, he said comes later in the year, such as post-frost, or around mid-October.

Because these plants are perennials, Moore said there will still be 50 percent cover even after the harvest, so the ground is protected over the non-growing winter months.

Sustainable Production Systems is headed up by Jeff Volenec of Purdue University and Rob Mitchell from USDA-ARS is to, conduct comparative analyses of the productivity potential and the environmental impacts of promising bioenergy crops and management systems using a network of 14 fields strategically located across the central United States.

Feedstock Logistics research is led by Stuart Birrell at ISU and Kevin Shinners at the University of Wisconsin to develop systems and strategies to enable sustainable and economic harvest, transportation and storage of feedstocks to meet industrial needs.

Feedstock Conversion, managed by Robert Brown of ISU is a study to perform a detailed economic analysis on the performance of a refinery based on pyrolytic processing of biomass into liquid fuels and provide biochar to other researchers on the project.

System Performance study is led by Cathy Kling of ISU and Jason Hill with the University of Minnesota and is a study to provide detailed analyses of feedstock production options and an accompanying set of spatial models to enhance the ability of policymakers, farmers and the bioenergy industry to make informed decisions about which bioenergy feedstocks to grow, where to produce them, what environmental impacts they will have and how biomass production systems are likely to respond to and contribute to climate change or other environmental shifts.

Markets and Distribution research is handled by Keri Jacobs at ISU and Dermot Hayes, also of ISU to study farm-level adoption decisions, exploring the effectiveness of policy, market and contract mechanisms that facilitate broad-scale voluntary adoption by farmers. Also, to evaluate impacts of an expanded advanced biofuel system on regional and global food, feed, energy and fiber markets.

Health and Safety is led by Chuck Schwab and Mark Hanna of ISU to conduct a detailed analysis of all tasks associated with biofeedstock production for hazard targets of personnel, equipment, environment, downtime and product. Also, to determine potentially hazardous respirator exposure limits associated with the production of biofeedstocks.

Education study is directed by Raj Raman of ISU and Patrick Murphy at Purdue University to provide rich interdisciplinary training and engagement opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in all areas of the bioenergy value chain to meet work force challenges of the bioeconomy.

"This study," said Moore, "helps build up the human capital to support this research when the project is done. We're putting students with the scientists."

One way this is done is through the CenUSA Internship program. Participants of this program are a diverse group from multiple institutions across the United States, representing disciplines including physics, biological systems engineering and agronomy. During the internship, students will participate in weekly reports and meetings as well as field trips to bioprocessing facilities, research facilities and agronomic field stations.

Extension and Outreach, run by Jill Euken of ISU is to deliver science-based information and informal educational program linked to CenUSA project goals to agricultural and rural economy stakeholders and youth programs linked to 4-H and FFA programs.

Extension and Outreach is also for helping to establish a "citizen science" program to promote shared learning on the impacts of perennial grass agriculture and ecosystems.

A third of the project's budget, Moore said, is spent on education and extension, proving just how integral a part they both are for the project.

Moore said an advisory board has been made with industry professionals representing the supply chain and their role is to provide high-level, broad advice and to serve as an important link and network into stakeholder groups.

"The advisory board has been a very valuable component to the study and have come up with excellent questions and ideas," said Moore.

A workshop, the "2012 Commercialization Workshop, a Roadmap to Commercialize Thermochemical Biofuels in the Midwest" Moore said was held in December.

With the many industry participants, Moore said he considers the workshop a success.

"I am very optimistic and upbeat from the industry of the potential of processing materials and making fuels out of them," said Moore.

Moore said he is also very confident about the project and its outcomes, and even though it is still very early on in the project,

CenUSA Bioenergy has already seen positive results.

"I have never been concerned about the success of the project due to the team," said Moore. "These people can't fail. They are the experts."



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