This story was originally published by Abbie Latterell with the Iowa Energy Center.
Every year the Iowa Energy Center selects four leaders in energy research and innovation, one for each of our main focus areas: bioenergy, education and outreach, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Two of the 2015 winners are members of Iowa State’s College of Engineering faculty. This year’s winners spoke at the Iowa Energy Summit on Wednesday, November 4 at the Prairie Meadows Conference & Event Center in Altoona, IA.
Dr. Laura Jarboe, professor of Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University, is conducting research that focuses on making fuels from biomass. Currently, petroleum is used to make commodity chemicals. Everything from the desk in your office to the plastic on your phone is probably petroleum-based. Jarboe wants to change that. She takes microbial biocatalysts, such as yeast fermentation, engineers the microbes that change their genetics, and uses them to make ethanol into butanol, a more efficient fuel. In other words, Dr. Jarboe is researching how we can make plants into better fuels.
Sri Sritharan is a structural engineer at Iowa State University working to improve the efficiency of wind turbines by increasing their height. His tall towers project involves many people from around the country, working with wind energy industry leaders and the Department of Energy (DOE). Sritharan works on the design of the towers, putting him at the center of it all. Currently, wind towers are around 80 meters tall and constructed of steel. However, Sritharan’s use of a new concrete structure called “hexcrete” can increase turbine heights to 120 or even up to 140 meters, greatly boosting the efficiency of wind turbines.