What is bioenergy?
Bioenergy or biomass typically refers to organic material such as crops, crop wastes, trees, wood waste and animal waste. Some examples of biomass include wood chips, corn, corn stalks, soybeans, switchgrass, straw, animal waste and food-processing by-products.
Producing fuels and chemicals from biomass is not a new concept as biomass-based chemicals have been in use since the 1800′s to make products such as paint, glue, adhesives, synthetic cloth and solvents. But there has been a renewed interest in biomass for economic, environmental and other reasons.
It makes sense that Iowa, with its significant agricultural industries, lead the way in developing and expanding the market for value-added, biomass-based fuels and chemicals.
Rather than simply selling raw materials, Iowa businesses can produce higher value, marketable products. Biomass feedstocks can be substituted for petroleum feedstocks in the production of most fuels and chemicals used today. All final products can be made from crops and crop by-products. The additional facilities needed to process and produce biofuels and biochemicals create jobs and significantly increase the financial benefit of growing agricultural crops.
Iowa is moving research forward
The Iowa NSF EPSCoR program includes a bioenergy platform. Although bioenergy technology has improved significantly, there are a lot of unknown factors about integrating bioenergy into our energy system. Iowa NSF EPSCoR researchers focus on Iowa’s energy context, in which bioenergy from crop sources will likely be important.
These researchers investigate how to sustainably produce, transport, and store large quantities of bioenergy crops and new engineering methods to convert these crops into energy and other desirable products.
Iowa has some of the best farmland in the country; 90% of Iowa’s land is used for agriculture. Bioenergy crops could improve some of that land. Iowa has agricultural, industrial, and research infrastructure and an energy research legacy.