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First in the nation: ISU dedicates BioCentury Research Farm

By Staff | Sep 25, 2009

The exterior of the new BioCentury Research Farm, between Boone and Ames, along U.S. highway 30.

AMES – They couldn’t say enough positive things about Iowa State University’s new renewable fuels research farm.

“A first of the nation facility,” said Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences at ISU.

“This is something big for ISU, Iowa, the nation and the world,” said Dr. Gregory Geoffrey, president of ISU.

The BioCentury Research Farm “will conduct research and develop renewable fuels for sustainability. We’re going to harvest, haul and process all on this site,” said Patty Judge, Iowa’s Lt. Governor.

“The results from the work at this facility will help us set our direction for (biofuels) in the future,” said Roya Stanley, director of the Iowa Office of Energy Independence.

Some of the 250 people who attended Tuesday’s ceremonies look over the inside of the processing facility. This room will feature the first stages of processing raw feed stocks.

“This facility will be our legitimacy to the world, to show we are committed” to being a world leader in renewable fuels, said Bill Niebur, vice president of DuPont Crop Genetics Research.

The research farm will help the U.S. “figure out how to develop above-ground energy sources in the long-term future,” said Robert Brown, director of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies.

“This facility is another tool to make ISU the center of science and technology research,” said Larry Johnson, director of the research farm.

An estimated 250 people attended the open house and dedication Tuesday of ISU’s newest research facility which is touted as the only comprehensive, fully integrated renewable fuels research site in the world.

It was a big day for Iowa and anyone associated with the facility was ready to tell you so.

A New Holland forage harvester for cellulosic fuel was on display during the open house at Iowa State University’s dedication and open facility tours of the BioCentury Research Farm.

And, probably, rightly so. Aside from researching and testing the viability of a variety of feed stocks for producing renewable fuels, namely ethanol and biodiesel, researchers will study the extraction of other products from the feed stocks including livestock feed and pharmaceuticals.

The facility will be open for private companies to collaborate with the college on projects, but they can also conduct their own proprietary research.

“The term field of dreams is not out of place for a facility like this today,” Johnson said.

He told Farm News that he hoped those attending Tuesday’s presentation, and who took the facility tour, would “catch the vision for the next generation of fuels and for scalping out other highly valuable byproducts.”

In making ethanol, Johnson said, the work here will help to improve dry-milling techniques. “We won’t put them (dry-milling ethanol plants) out of business, but we need more (ethanol and byproducts) than grain can provide.”

Discussing the inner workings of Vermeer’s new Cob Caddy is Jay Van Roekel, Vermeer’s segment manager, and Ed van Ouwerkerk, an ISU research assistant who wrote ISU’s I-Farm software.

He said the facility will continue to emphasize processing soybeans and corn, but will also spend about half of its time on cellulosic sources.

The initial processing capacity for the site will be roughly 15 pounds of feed stock per hour, a relatively small processor. However, Johnson said, the facility has the space to gradually increase its capacity to process 2.5 tons daily.

When fully operational, the research farm will employ 15 to 25 people.

John Strohl, manager of ISU’s fermentation facility, said one project the farm will work on is how to process the current wastewater at ethanol plants into a marketable product. He said the plan is to add a fungus to the wastewater and let the fungus grow. After about two days, the fungi will grow absorbing some of the water. The liquid remaining after straining the fungi is recycled back into the processor. The fungi are then processed as a livestock feed additive.

Ed van Ouwerkerk, ISU research associate and software developer, was on hand for the tours. He wrote ISU’s software, I-Farm, a program to help producers determine the financial impacts of their management decisions before they are implemented.

A John Deere combine with an implement to grind and blow stover into a trailing wagon.

Van Ouwerkerk said he is in the process of working into the program a way for producers to determine if hauling stover and/or corn cobs to ethanol plants is financially feasible.

Outside of the facility, Jay Van Roekel, segment manager for Vermeer, based in Pella, was on hand to explain Vermeer’s new Cob Caddy, a machine designed for gathering and hauling corn cobs for ethanol processing. The model CCX770 would require a minimum 240 hp combine. It can hold the equivalent of five to seven acres of cobs.

The Cob Caddy, Van Roekel explained, is a side-dumping implement, with hydraulics that can lift the box as high as 15 feet to accommodate a variety of receptacles.

Research director Johnson noted that all of the combined research projects is all-inclusive involving seed genetics, plant pathology, machinery development, computer software, fuel processing and refining technology, business incubation and other aspects of ag industry.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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