Iowa State chemical engineering researchers are one step closer to making biorenewable fuels and chemicals affordable and easy to use in order to compete with today’s dominant, petroleum-based energy resources.
Laura Jarboe, an assistant professor for the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, recently received a $315,020 grant from Iowa Energy Center to test hybrid processing for robust production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals. Funds will be used to partially support three graduate student researchers, a postdoctoral research associate, undergraduate student researchers and laboratory supplies.
Hybrid processing deconstructs biomass through fast pyrolysis and uses microbial biocatalysts (bacteria and algae in this case) to convert the pyrolysis products (sugar and acetate) into fuels and chemicals. The current, industrial method of biomass processing uses expensive enzymes to break down biomass or pure sugars are used – sugars that would be better used as animal feed or for production of food for people. The ultimate goal of the Iowa State project is to prove that this thermochemical process can be more economical, therefore more widely applied to biorenewable fuel and chemical production.
For the next three years, Jarboe and her researchers will test methods to increase the quality of pyrolysis products, identify genetic changes of the microbes that increase the ability to use the pyrolysis products, and evaluate costs of the thermochemical process compared to the existing biochemical process.
Iowa Energy Center funds this project, as a portion of the grant is awarded once a year over three years between now and June 2015. The first $102,859 was awarded in July for the upcoming 12 months.