CTRE  en route
Winter 2007

CTRE en route is published twice a year to inform readers about CTRE's projects and programs.

Address: CTRE, 2901 S. Loop Drive, Suite 3100, Ames, IA 50010

Phone: 515-294-8103
FAX: 515-294-0467

Website: www.ctre.iastate.edu/

CTRE Communications:
Marcia Brink
CTRE en route editor:
Michele Regenold

CTRE is an Iowa State University center.

Iowa State University: Becoming the best

CTRE’s involvement with Iowa’s biorenewable fuels initiative

By Duane Smith, Associate Director for Outreach

On November 28, 2006, Iowa State University hosted A Call to Action Summit: Ensuring Iowa’s Leadership in the Bioeconomy. This event brought together 442 people, including elected officials and legislative leaders, and representatives of government agencies, business, industry, agriculture, and academia. The goal of the summit was to generate policy and program recommendations that would help sustain the viability of current bioindustries, assure Iowa’s continued leadership in renewable fuels and biobased products, and encourage future bioindustry investment and expansion in Iowa.

CTRE Associate Director for Outreach Duane Smith and Associate Director for Policy David Plazak facilitated two of the eight breakout sessions. One area that seemed to be articulated by every breakout session was the need to assess the impacts to Iowa’s infrastructure and to Iowa’s environment, which are of primary interest to CTRE.

After the summit, CTRE staff discussed the potential infrastructure and environmental impacts with others at Iowa State University. Today CTRE is making a commitment to pursue the development and implementation of research that will assist in answering the many questions that have been raised.

Bioenergy statistics

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) goals for year 2030 include raising the market share percentage for biofuels from 4% in 2010 to 20% by 2030 and raising the market share percentage for biopower from 4% in 2010 to 7% by 2030.

Today ethanol is produced mostly in the corn belt using primarily corn as the feedstock. But this will need to change in order to meet the DOE’s goals.

Competition for the corn grown in Iowa already exists. Figure 1 shows the existing or planned ethanol plants along with the corn supply areas (circles) that are required to meet the individual plant production potential. When the circles overlap, corn will need to be imported from sources outside the circle. Imports may be from within the state or from neighboring states.

Map of Iowa showing locations of current and planned ethanol plants

Figure 1. Corn Demands for Iowa’s ethanol plants (Graphic from R. Wisner, ISU, Nov. 2006)

To meet the ethanol production goals of the biofuels industry, feedstocks must include more than corn. In fact, to meet the DOE’s goals, feedstocks must include lignocellulose, the primary structural component of plants. Research is underway at Iowa State University to economically convert plant cellulose to fuel.

The University of Tennessee published a study last fall, 25% Renewable Energy for the United States by 2025: Agricultural and Economic Impacts (25X′25), which was designed to determine the feasibility of America’s farms, forests, and ranches providing 25 percent of U.S. total energy needs by the year 2025. The study concluded that the goal is achievable with the continued yield increases in major crops, strong contributions from the forestry sector, utilization of food processing wastes, as well as the use of dedicated energy crops like switchgrass. Figure 2 illustrates the various feedstocks researched and the relative amounts required to meet the 25X′25 goal. The important fact is the large amount of feedstocks, other than corn, needed to make this goal.  The feedstocks have not been totally identified and the industry has not matured to the stage where they can be economically utilized.

Graph showing variety of feedstocks of potential use in fuel

Figure 2 Timing and Feedstocks for the “25X’25” Vision (Graph borrowed from the 25X’25 report. See B. English et. al., 2006 www.agpolicy.ort/ppap/REPORT%2025x25.pdf)

Historically, industry has focused on the production of corn at the beginning of the agricultural bioenergy value chain and processing it into ethanol at the other end of the chain, but not focusing on the in-between steps of cultivation, harvest, transport, and storage of feedstocks or on getting bioindustry products to market. See Figure 3.

Flowchart showing the agricultural steps from growth through processing

Figure 3 Agricultural Part of the Bioenergy Value Chain (Graphic courtesy of Jill Euken, Iowa State University)

Does Iowa have an adequate transportation infrastructure to support this growing industry? We don’t know. To find out, CTRE has developed three visions for research.

CTRE’s research visions

Vision 1: Assuring Infrastructure That Sustains Iowa’s Biofuels Industry. In pursuing this vision, CTRE aims to evaluate if

  • the highways and paved secondary roads are adequate to carry the changing traffic loadings predicted for the industry demands.
  • the unpaved road network in Iowa is prepared to carry much of the traffic as feedstocks are moved from the farms to their storage locations.
  • there are efficient and safe bridges and structures that will serve well into the future.
  • the transportation system can serve industry needs and avoid major increases in transportation costs due to an incomplete roadway system.
  • Iowa would be able to continue to have a safe and secure transportation system available for all of its users.

One of the ways this vision may be accomplished is to examine if biofuels by-products can be used for roadway applications such as stabilizing agents for gravel roads and dust suppressants on heavily traveled roads.

Vision 2: Logistics and Supply Chain Management for the Next Generation Biofuels.
It will be important to optimize the location of plants and synergistic industries for energy production, the livestock industry, and chemicals and plastics. Rural economic development clusters may be in Iowa’s future. In addition, there is a need to explore the outbound logistics system for cellulose feedstock as well as the finished products as they move to the marketplace. The logistics system will surely include truck, rail, inland waterways, pipelines, and intermodal transfer depots.

In support of this vision, CTRE would work to optimize transport modes (truck, rail, barge, pipeline, etc.) and transportation vehicle configurations for inbound and outbound logistics. This may include considerations such as the overall dimensions of vehicles, axle configuration and spacing, and loading at each of the axles.

Vision 3: Improving the Competitiveness of Biofuels as Alternatives to Conventional Fuels.
Biofuels will compete with other fuel sources as the industry grows and makes market penetration. In order to be competitive, Iowa’s biofuels will need to be efficient and sensitive to the benefits they provide including those related to air quality. CTRE proposes to assess the fuel efficiency and to quantify the air quality benefits not only for Iowans, but also in large metropolitan areas that are struggling with air quality concerns related to meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  

In support of this vision, CTRE proposes evaluating, economic, infrastructure, policy and social concerns that present opportunities or pose barriers in this regard. Public policy will be a major factor in moving biofuels into the existing energy markets, in assuring wide spread product availability, and in encouraging use by individuals, businesses, and institutions.

At the time of this writing, Iowa ranks first in the nation for ethanol production and second for biodiesel production. CTRE plans to help Iowa stay on top in this exciting new industry.

For more information contact one of the following individuals at CTRE:

All three can be reached at 515-294-8103