ISU Synthetic Diesel Fuel Project Gets Grant

Iowa State-ConocoPhillips alternative fuel project is selected for $2 million award.

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected an Iowa State University-ConocoPhillips research project for up to a $2 million award for the design and construction of a biomass gasification system to produce synthetic diesel fuel. The award, once final details are negotiated with the energy department, will help support a two-year, $5.2 million research project. ConocoPhillips is the third largest integrated energy company in the United States. The firm will provide the remainder of the project's funding. The project is part of the eight-year $22.5 million research program ConocoPhillips is sponsoring at Iowa State. The energy department says it will support the ISU-ConocoPhillips project as well as studies in Utah, North Carolina and Alabama with total funding up to $7.7 million over two years. The four projects won awards in a competitive selection process and all use thermochemical technologies to convert biomass into fuels.

Another boost for renewable fuels

"We are committed to expanding the sustainable production and use of biofuels and these projects will help develop cleaner methods for turning a wide variety of feedstocks into fuel," said Samuel Bodman, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. "Successful completion of the projects will redefine the way we produce America's fuels and follows the president's call to end our dependence on oil."

Robert Brown, the Director of Biorenewables Programs at ISU and leader of ISU's work on the research project, says the study will result in the design and construction of a new biomass gasifier and gas cleanup system at ISU.

Gasification heats biomass without oxygen to produce a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The mixture is known as synthesis gas. Brown says the gasifier to be built by ISU researchers will process 44 pounds of biomass from switchgrass every hour. That's enough to analyze and improve a process for converting biomass into synthetic diesel fuel.

Making diesel fuel from switchgrass

That process will require seven major steps: feedstock preparation, gasification, gas cooling, tar and particulate matter removal, sulfur removal, ammonia removal and synthesis of liquid fuel. After the gasifier is built and tested, it will be shipped to a ConocoPhillips facility where company researchers will connect the gasifier to a Fischer-Tropsch reactor that uses catalysts to produce chemical reactions that turn synthesis gas into synthetic diesel fuel.

Brown says the Department of Energy award says a lot about the ConocoPhillips research program at Iowa State. "This is good news," notes Brown. "This project shows how far along we are in our collaboration with ConocoPhillips."

"Emerging technologies to convert biomass into clean, domestic fuels is the future of our national energy security. No where is that more evident than in Iowa, where we are literally growing the crops that will lead to these advancements," says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"Iowa has long served as the breadbasket to the world and is now in a position to also serve as the nation's leader in renewable fuels. As demand for clean, renewable fuels grows we need to continue our efforts on research that will accelerate the production of fuels from biomass and cellulosic feedstocks. ISU will have the exciting opportunity to push the biofrontier towards the next step in renewable energy," adds Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

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