College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Powering the future with biogas: Abigail Schulte places first in annual Three Minute Thesis Competition

Headshot of Abigail Schulte
Headshot of Abigail Schulte
Headshot of Abigail Schulte in front of Marston Hall

Named the winner of eight finalists in Iowa State University’s annual three minute thesis competition, Abigail Schulte is a concurrent student in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering versed in advocating for the environment through clear research and communication.

Schulte’s thesis is inspired by the climate change crisis, studying what ratio of prairie grass and dairy manure can produce the highest quantity and quality of biogas, titled ‘solid state anaerobic digestion of prairie grass and dairy manure.’ Biogas is a natural gas created when carbon (prairie grass) and nitrogen (dairy manure) elements are combined in an oxygen-free environment.

“In my research, I take prairie grass and cow manure, and I put it into a vessel and create biogas that can then be turned into natural gas, that then powers our home,” Schulte said. “This is all done in an environment without oxygen, so these microbes in the manure thrive and eat the grass and manure, creating the biogas.”

Before studying the perfect balance of carbon and nitrogen to create biogas, Schulte had multiple internships in the wastewater industry. But for as long as Schulte can remember, a safe environment has been a top priority.

“I’ve grown up in a world where we are very aware of the climate crisis and the environment, and it’s something that we need to work on, so when I was looking at what to major in, I wanted something that would directly impact the world,” Schulte said. “Being an engineer focusing on decreasing the severity of climate change appealed to me, taking the skill set I learned and applying it in a way that I felt was very straightforward.”

With a minor in history, a major in biological systems engineering, and previous experience in wastewater, Schulte is what some would call a ‘jack of all trades.’ And according to Schulte, ABE is just the same, a department that tailors to student’s ever growing passions.

“I really like the multi-faceted approach that ABE has,” Schulte said. “I have been exposed to soil cycles and nitrogen cycles, but I also understand how to code and take electricity classes, and while these classes might not seem super relevant to my field, at the end of the day I am still coming out with these skills that I might need in the future.”

As a concurrent student, Schulte is balancing the last year of a bachelor’s degree, and a first year as a master’s student at the same time, on track to graduate with a master’s degree in 2024.