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Iowa Needs To Cash-In On Biofuel Opportunity

New report details recommendations from Bioeconomy Summit held last month at ISU.

When Iowa State University President Greg Geoffroy opened the daylong conference on Iowa's role in the emerging new bioeconomy last month, he pointed out that, "The stakes are enormous. Developing the biofuels industry will mean big changes and opportunities for Iowa. But we can't rest on our laurels as the leader in ethanol production from corn grain. To develop the cellulosic ethanol industry in our state, it is going to take a different approach."

Another keynote speaker, Robert Brown, director of the Office of Biorenewables Programs at ISU, echoed Geoffroy's observations. "Iowa has the potential to lead the nation in the emerging bioeconomy, but it won't be easy and it will require a significant state investment in research," said Brown. "Other states—especially California--are trying to do the same thing we are."

A third keynote speaker, Ted Crosbie, director of global plant breeding for Monsanto Company, noted that there are a lot of unanswered, practical questions about developing the so-called next generation of the ethanol industry in Iowa. "Using crops like cornstalks and switchgrass to produce cellulosic ethanol is possible, but there are many questions yet to be answered."

How Iowa can be the biofuel leader

A 17-page report listing 118 recommendations developed by the Nov. 28 "Call to Action Summit: Ensuring Iowa's Leadership in the Bioeconomy" is now complete and online. You can find it here:  

Examples of the recommendations include:

• Develop a comprehensive, statewide energy policy to oversee the development of the Iowa bioeconomy. The opportunity is too great and too immediate to risk an uncoordinated approach.

• Invest state funds as leverage to attract federal and industrial research contracts to the Regent Universities in biorenewable resources and technologies. Research is the key to the emergence of advanced biofuels and biobased products but Iowa does not have the financial resources to underwrite the costs on its own. However, federal and industrial research dollars tend to flow to institutions that are already organized to perform the desired research.

State investment in research infrastructure and new faculty who can expand research capability in biofuels and biobased products will help assure Iowa's continued leadership in this field.

• Institute policies that encourage greater consumer acceptance and use of biofuels. Most important at this time would be policies that expand the number of flex fuel vehicles in operation in the state and assure access to E-85 at fueling stations. If limited to E-10 blends, markets for ethanol will soon stop growing.

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