Posted on 27. Sep, 2013 by perspective in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Economic Impact, Energy Independence, Environment and Sustainability, Issues, Research
When Steenbock and Michel Boudart Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering James Dumesic looks at a dried corn stalk, he sees the energy embedded within it.
For years, Dumesic and his colleagues have made major contributions to the science and process of converting plant waste into transportation fuel.
And while renewable fuels historically have been the end goal, the researchers now are focusing on a suite of useful chemicals they can create throughout the conversion process. “The biorenewables area has moved from focusing on biofuels to now looking at biochemicals, and we have some very good technologies for making these furan-based chemicals,” says Dumesic.
Recently, for example, his group demonstrated an efficient process for simultaneously converting two differing components of plant biomass into either furfural or levulinic acid, which are valuable non-petroleum-based commodity chemicals. In the United States, furfural is used to manufacture everything from plastics to pesticides—yet manufacturers import it almost exclusively from China—and levulinic acid is a value-added biochemical used to make solvents, monomers for the polymer industry, and fuel additives.
Now, Dumesic and colleagues at Iowa State University have founded Glucan Biorenewables to take advantage of sustainable processes they have developed for converting plant sugars into furan derivatives. The company aims to be a reliable U.S. source for such chemicals.
The team, which includes Brent Shanks, an Iowa State professor of chemical and biological engineering; Peter Keeling, the Iowa State National Science Foundation Engineering Research Centerfor Biorenewable Chemicals innovation director; and CEO Victoria Gonzalez, received grants from the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program and the state of Iowa. Currently, the group is raising funds to conduct pre-pilot testing and is seeking venture capital funding for a pilot plant.