ISU-ConocoPhillips Collaboration Advances 26 Projects

A year ago the major oil company and Iowa State University announced an eight-year, $22.5 million joint research program.

The first year of ConocoPhillips' eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University has supported 26 research projects and helped establish new research to further diversify America's sources of energy and help meet growing demand.

This effort got underway when ConocoPhillips, the third-largest integrated energy company in the United States, provided $1.75 million to begin 14 research projects at ISU in 2007. The company also provided $3 million to begin another 12 research projects in 2008.

The research projects are being conducted by researchers in 11 departments or programs at Iowa State in conjunction with ConocoPhillips researchers. These projects include studies of various biofuel production technologies, technical and economic analyses of different types of biorefineries, production of crops for conversion to biofuels, sustainable growing of crops and biomass, the harvest, storage and transportation of biomass, and the combustion performance of biofuels in engines.

Collaboration is yielding results

"ConocoPhillips is very pleased with the progress of our joint efforts and we commend ISU's commitment to this research," says Stephen Brand, ConocoPhillips senior vice president of technology. "We have been impressed by the innovation and collaboration at work among ConocoPhillips and ISU researchers working side by side on the various projects."

"ISU is proud to be working with ConocoPhillips on this important research," says Robert C. Brown, the Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute at ISU. "This truly is a research collaboration. It's not just a grant to the university."

The ConocoPhillips research program has attracted some ISU faculty members who are new to biorenewables research. One example is Mark Hargrove, a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology. He's studying natural enzymes called cellulosomes, enzymes found in termites and the first stomachs of cows that excel at breaking down cellulose from plants. A grant from ConocoPhillips is helping him develop a method to make synthetic cellulosomes that are efficient and easier to work with than natural cellulosomes.

ISU studying biomass crop systems

Robert Horton, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture at ISU, studies how heat, water and chemicals move through the soil and has been awarded a grant from ConocoPhillips to study how various biomass crop systems affect water quality beneath the soil, the carbon content of the soil and carbon dioxide emissions from the soil.

The ConocoPhillips research program also has helped establish new research collaborations for the company and ISU. In December 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy selected an ISU-ConocoPhillips research project for an award that will allow researchers to design and build a biomass gasification system that produces synthetic diesel fuel. ISU, ConocoPhillips and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory also recently announced a joint effort to identify the most efficient and cost-effective technologies for converting plant biomass into liquid transportation fuels.

"A little more than one year ago ConocoPhillips and ISU announced an eight-year, $22.5 million research program," sums up Brown. "That collaboration began 14 research projects in 2007 and another 12 in 2008. Those include studies of various biofuel production technologies, technical and economic analyses of different types of biorefineries, production of crops for conversion to biofuels, sustainable growing of crops and biomass, the harvest, storage and transportation of biomass, and the combustion performance of biofuels in engines."

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