College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Brown discovers NAS report is based off ISU research

When Robert Brown was perusing the early October publication of the National Academies of Sciences’ report on U.S. biofuels policy, his attention was drawn to its economic analysis. As he read on, Brown realized that this part of the report was heavily influenced by studies performed at Iowa State.

“I was surprised to discover that the economic assessment was derived almost exclusively from papers and reports published by our research team in the previous year,” explains Brown, who is the Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute, director of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies, and professor of mechanical engineering, chemical and biological engineering, and agricultural and biosystems engineering

Just over five years ago, the United States adopted policies to encourage the production of renewable fuels. In 2005, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act, marking the start of the first renewable fuels standard (RFS1). RFS1 required that 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended with gasoline by 2012 to reduce U.S. dependence on imported petroleum. These targets were exceeded considerably by the emergence of corn ethanol, but objections were soon raised about using food and feed crops for fuel production.

Two years later Congress revised the original legislation to create RFS2, which calls for increasing production of fuels from wood, grasses, and other kinds of biomass. These fuels have the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 to 60 percent. Major milestones to achieve 16 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022 have been missed, sparking concerns about the nation’s ability to adhere to the regulations set forth in RFS2. As a result, Congress directed the National Academy of Sciences to examine the RFS2 legislation and answer the underlying question: is the biofuels industry sufficiently developed to meet Congress’ expectations for advanced biofuels?

As Brown discovered, the resulting report by the National Academy based its economic evaluations on research performed at Iowa State University in collaboration with Conoco-Phillips and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The team looked at the cost to build and operate biofuels plants based on three prominent advanced biofuels technologies: cellulosic ethanol, gasification, and pyrolysis.

Read more about the Iowa State research on Innovate.