ExxonMobil to invest $1 million in ISU biofuels research

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Oil and gas giant ExxonMobil Corp. is investing $1 million over two years to establish an advanced biofuels research program at Iowa State University, the partners said today.

The ExxonMobil biofuels initiative will will initially focus on two research projects connected to “fast pyrolysis”of biomass. It’s a process of rapidly heating biomass such as corn stalks, switchgrass or wood chips without oxygen to produce liquid bio-oil that can then be upgraded into transportation fuels, ISU said in a statement.

ISU researchers have been studying fast pyrolysis for more than 15 years and have recently upgraded a fast pyrolysis pilot plant at the university’s BioCentury Research Farm.

“ExxonMobil’s decision to support biofuels studies at Iowa State makes an important statement about the expertise of our researchers and students,” said ISU President Steven Leath. “Our work at Iowa State is creating great advances in biofuels technologies. This research partnership will help us to do even more to meet the world’s energy challenges by putting science and technology to work.”

ExxonMobil’s said the need for energy will continue to grow as economies expand, living standards rise and the world’s population grows by more than 25 percent through 2040. Global demand for energy is projected to rise by about 35 percent from 2010 to 2040, the corporation said.

“Innovation begins with fundamental science and we are looking forward to working with Iowa State to study pyrolysis of biomass,” said Vijay Swarup, an ExxonMobil corporate research leader. To meet future energy demand in the most effective and economic way, we believe it is important to explore numerous options. The challenges are significant, and overcoming them will take a considerable investment of time, resources and scientific expertise.”

Robert C. Brown, director of director of Iowa State’s Bioeconomy Institute, said the projects are important to enhancing the fundamental understanding of technology options that have the potential to contribute to advanced biofuels, and they’re important to Iowa State students.

“ExxonMobil has asked us to investigate the truly novel problems of biomass pyrolysis, which are exactly the kinds of problems our graduate students need for their dissertation research,” said Brown, who will the new research program. “We are going to have some happy students in the labs.”