ConocoPhillips will make an initial $1.5 million grant in 2007 to support Iowa State researchers, with additional grants of $3 million per year for seven years.
Biorenewable fuels are produced from organic materials and help reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while diversifying the energy supply. Conventional biorenewable fuels include ethanol from corn starch and biodiesel from soybean oil. Advanced biofuels are expected to be made from fibrous biomass such as the stalks and leaves from corn plants and switchgrass.
"I'm pleased Iowa State University and ConocoPhillips will partner to research and develop new technologies for producing biofuels," said Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. "These kind of public-private partnerships are an important part of my plan to fuel Iowa's future. Private sector investments will be the driving force behind the development of new industries and technologies, and I'm encouraged that Iowa State and ConocoPhillips are working together to create the right research programs for our state's energy future."
"We believe the key to a secure energy future is the efficient and effective use of a diverse mix of energy sources," said Jim Mulva, chairman and chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips. "ConocoPhillips is developing long-term relationships with respected academic institutions such as Iowa State to research extensions of traditional energy sources that ultimately will benefit consumers."
"We are excited to work with ConocoPhillips to develop a research program that applies Iowa State University's strengths in renewable energy," said Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy. "The emerging consensus is that a very big part of increasing the nation's energy security will be producing fuels from plants. Iowa State scientists and engineers are well positioned to put science to work advancing biofuels technologies."
Robert C. Brown, the Iowa Farm Bureau Director of Iowa State's Office of Biorenewables Programs, said ConocoPhillips is especially interested in converting biomass to fuel through fast pyrolysis, a process that uses heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose biomass into a liquid product. This so-called bio-oil can be used as a heating oil or can be converted into transportation fuel at petroleum refineries.
Brown said ConocoPhillips also will sponsor studies of other thermochemical technologies that produce biofuels.
ConocoPhillips will fund research to understand and support environmental sustainability and rural economies. Studies will emphasize crop improvement and production, the harvesting and transportation of biomass and the impacts of biofuels on economic policy and rural sociology.
According to Brown, the details of specific projects have yet to be determined. He estimates the research program will involve 10 faculty members plus graduate students in the first year with additional researchers added in subsequent years. He noted that ConocoPhillips turned to Iowa State as a research partner, in part, because of Iowa State's expertise in a wide range of biorenewable technologies.
Iowa State's Office of Biorenewables Programs includes 145 faculty members with ties to 18 academic departments and 19 research centers and institutes across campus. Those researchers have attracted more than $57 million in sponsored research funding since 2002. The ConocoPhillips research program will add to that total.
"Iowa State University, with its central location in the agricultural belt and rich traditions of research and service, is uniquely positioned to set the standard for biorenewables research, education and technology transfer," Geoffroy said. "Contributing to the development of the bioeconomy is directly in line with our mission: 'Create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.'"