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ISU Pursues Role As Biorenewables Leader

Iowa State University hopes to partner with various major oil companies, agribusiness firms and other land grant universities to capture a leading role in the biorenewables industry. That's the message ISU President Gregory Geoffroy delivered to a town hall meeting on the Ames campus on October 23.

Geoffroy said the university's role in the rapidly growing industry extends beyond corn-based ethanol to other sources of biobased energy, including wind, solar and cellulosic or biomass. "Wherever possible we want to be players in these areas," he said. He delivered his address to a standing-room only crowd of more than 300 students, faculty and staff.

The meeting was intended to broaden the participation of the multidisciplinary effort to expand ISU's standing as a leader in bioenergy. "This is a call to action," said Wendy Wintersteen, dean of ISU's College of Agriculture, after listening to Geoffroy's speech.

Industry officials interested in ISU

Representatives of Conoco-Phillips visited the Ames campus last week to discuss potential research partnerships. Also, officials from Archer Daniels Midland Co., the nation's largest producer of corn-based ethanol, and other companies have visited ISU recently.

Also last week, it was announced that ISU is partnering with the University of California at San Diego and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland to try to get a $500-million biosciences energy institute. The institute is to be built somewhere, next to a university campus, by BP—one of the world's largest petroleum companies.

The ISU partnership is one of five institutions or partnerships trying to land the project. The other contenders are in the United Kingdom, where BP is headquartered, and three are in the United States. The five competing universities have submitted proposals for the BP project.

Big meeting at Ames is Nov. 28

State government and the federal government will also play a role in ISU's work on biorenewables, says Geoffroy. On November 28 ISU will host a statewide summit in Ames on policy and program recommendations related to biorenewables for the 2007 Legislature. The university is also vying for major grants from various federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, plans to award $250 million in grants to create centers for research into converting cellulosic biomass into fuel. ISU hopes to win one of those grants and explore partnerships with other universities. "It's very unlikely that any single university will have all the talent the Department of Energy is looking for," says Geoffroy.

Biorenewable energy is a hot topic at ISU these days. High oil prices, the Bush administration's support and other factors have propelled the bioenergy issue to the top of Geoffroy's agenda for ISU. "ISU is as well-positioned as any university to take advantage of these opportunities," he says. "And we intend to."

Energy train is moving very fast

"This train is moving very, very fast—not just here in Iowa but across the entire country," says Geoffroy. "Part of the problem is how to keep up with it."

Robert Brown, director of ISU's Office of Biorenewables Programs, says Iowa is "starch ready right now. We need to be cellulose ready." Brown expects to see commercial production of cellulosic ethanol fuels as soon as 2010. "If you would have asked me four months ago, I wouldn't have said 2010," he notes.

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