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Three ISU researchers present their work in sustainable energy

Three Iowa State University researchers described their progress in the field of sustainable energy Tuesday night at the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

More than 100 people attended the presentation, which was part of ISU’s Live Green sustainability series, an initiative sponsored by President Greg Geoffroy to spur environmentally friendly practices on campus.

“The Iowa State University Live Green Initiative is about leading by example,” Geoffroy said. “We are indeed one of the national and international leaders on biorenewables and biorenewable resources.”

Larry Johnson, director of the new BioCentury Research Farm, described the type of research that will be done there and said ISU is the first university to integrate components of biomass production and processing.

“We believe this will serve as a national model,” Johnson said. “Other universities have pieces, but nobody brings those pieces together like we are doing at the BioCentury Research Farm.”

He said the main research done at the farm will be on making current biofuel technology more efficient and converting biomass material to energy through biological and thermal means.

Johnson described the type of work that would take place at every building on the BioCentury Research Farm, including a prototype biomass processing facility that contains three processing trains for fermentation, thermochemical conversion and bioprocessing.

The facility also contains office space for graduate students and private companies that wish to partner with the university.

Victor Lin, professor of chemistry, is one researcher whose work has translated into his own start-up company.

Lin based his company, Catilin, around a catalyst he created that would make biodiesel production more efficient by eliminating almost 50 percent of the current production steps.

“Biodiesel is a very important because the current infrastructure of our auto industry is compatible with this type of biofuel,” Lin said.

Jim McCalley, professor in engineering, had more to say about the nation’s energy infrastructure, as his research is based around energy systems. He said the United States uses less than half of the energy it produces, the rest is wasted.

“That’s a big opportunity for efficiency improvement,” McCalley said.

McCalley described the nation’s energy system with a graph that showed American sources of energy and how much of that energy is used to meet certain energy needs. Using this information, McCalley proposed a solution that involved replacing a specific amount of carbon-based energy production with sustainable energy production.

He said if his plan was put into practice it would result in a 37.3 percent reduction in carbon emissions. He said it would require an initial $4 trillion investment that would probably be paid back after 15 years.

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