ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Biofuels Research Program at Iowa State; Interest in Fast Pyrolysis
ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biorenewable fuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips’ plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify US energy sources.
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.
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. The resulting bio-oil can be used as a heating oil or can be converted into transportation fuel at petroleum refineries.
Fast pyrolysis operates at atmospheric pressure and modest temperatures (450° C). Yields of pyrolysis liquid (bio-oil)—a low viscosity, dark-brown fluid with up to 15 to 20% water—can exceed 70 wt%.
While bio-oil can be combusted directly in a stationary engine, for transportation use it needs to be upgraded either by hydrocracking, gasification or fermentation.
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.