Iowa State awards economic development grants to 11 research projects

AMES, Iowa -- Grants from the state's Grow Iowa Values Fund will support studies of new soy proteins for the food industry, biomass gasifiers for the ethanol industry, corn- and soy-based composites for the plastics industry and other projects with commercial potential.

Iowa State has awarded $975,773 of state economic development dollars to 11 research projects. The grants range from $49,380 to $162,717. They must be matched by the researchers and their project partners.

This is the second time Iowa State has awarded the competitive grants. This round attracted 38 researchers hoping for funding.

Review committees recommended the grant winners based on their potential to create Iowa businesses, create jobs, increase sales, improve products, license technology, collaborate with Iowa businesses or attract federal research funding.

"These 11 projects have clear commercial potential for the state of Iowa," said John Brighton, Iowa State's vice provost for research. "These projects demonstrate Iowa State's commitment to translating discoveries into viable technologies, products and services to strengthen the economy of Iowa."

Larry Johnson, the director of Iowa State's Center for Crop Utilization Research and a professor of food science and human nutrition, and Nicolas Deak, a post doctoral research associate for the center, won a grant of $162,717 to develop their process for separating the two major proteins in soybeans.

The food industry currently uses a mix of both proteins because the separation process is expensive. But Johnson said that compromises potential health benefits -- such as reducing heart disease -- associated with one of the proteins. It also compromises the unique food properties -- the gelling characteristics, for example -- of each of the proteins.

Deak studied the problem as part of his Iowa State doctoral thesis and came up with a simple and economical way to separate the proteins, making two new products. A provisional patent has been filed for the technology. There are also negotiations to license the technology with SafeSoy Technologies of Ellsworth.

Johnson said the Grow Iowa Values Fund grant will help researchers learn more about the protein products, conduct market research and produce samples of the protein powders for testing by food companies.

"Our goal is to bring new Iowa-produced food ingredients into the international marketplace," Johnson and Deak wrote in a description of their project.

And the economic development dollars are a big help.

"We're truly excited," Johnson said. "This idea of commercialization is having a profound impact on what universities do in the area of research. We feel we've always done good science. But we lacked the funding to move it to a commercial level."

State lawmakers agreed last spring to appropriate $5 million per year for 10 years to the Regent universities for economic development projects. Iowa State's share is $1.925 million for each of the 10 years. Iowa State will use as much at $1.325 million per year to support research projects with high potential for commercialization.

The other winners in this round of the grant competition are:

  • $132,274 to Robert C. Brown, Bergles Professor in Thermal Science; Francine Battaglia, associate professor of mechanical engineering; and Ted Heindel, professor of mechanical engineering. The researchers will work with Frontline BioEnergy of Ames to commercialize gasifiers that convert biomass into a mixture of flammable gases. The resulting gas could be used to replace some of the natural gas burned in ethanol plants. It could also be upgraded into a gas that can be converted into chemicals and transportation fuels.
  • $96,000 to Richard Larock, a University Professor of chemistry; and Aron Rutin, chief operating officer of R3 Composites of Muscatine. They'll use plastics created from corn and soybean oil to manufacture hog feeders. The bioplastics technology has been patented through Iowa State.
  • $95,881 to Jay-lin Jane, professor of food science and human nutrition; Janusz Kapusniak, a visiting professor; and Suzanne Hendrich, a professor of food science and human nutrition. They'll work with the Grain Processing Corp. of Muscatine to study corn starches that are low in calories or resistant to digestion. This could help in the fight against obesity.
  • $79,900 to Jacek Koziel, an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. Koziel will study how treating fuel ethanol with ozone and activated carbon can economically remove impurities so the alcohol can be used by the beverage industry.
  • $76,914 to Samir Kumar Khanal, a research assistant professor in civil, construction and environmental engineering; Buddhi Prasad Lamsal, a research associate in food science and human nutrition; David Grewell, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering; and Stephanie Jung, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition. They'll use ultrasonics to enhance the yield of proteins and sugars from soybeans. The resulting soy whey will be used to produce a natural food preservative.
  • $76,806 to Hans van Leeuwen, professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; Sam Beattie, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition; and Allen Trenkle, a Distinguished Professor of animal science. They'll use a liquid byproduct of ethanol production to produce high-value fungus that can be added to animal feeds. They'll also study new and more efficient ways to treat the liquid byproduct.
  • $73,737 to Manjit Misra, director of the Institute for Food Safety and Security; Yuh-Yuan Shyy, a scientist in the Seed Science Center; and Alan Gaul, an assistant scientist in the Seed Science Center. They'll work to build and demonstrate a prototype of a continuous flow meter. Industries that could benefit from the technology patented by the Iowa State Research Foundation include the seed, grain and food industries.
  • $68,758 to David Grewell, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering; Michael Kessler, assistant professor of materials science and engineering; and Howard Van Auken, professor of management. The researchers will develop corn- and soy-based plastics reinforced with nanoclays. Ultrasonics will be used to break up and disperse the reinforcing material.
  • $63,406 to Vikram Dalal, director of the Microelectronics Research Center. Dalal will work with PowerFilm Inc. of Ames to develop high-performance solar cells using new technology that improves the performance and stability of solar cells.
  • $49,380 to Mary Holz-Clause, program manager of the Value Added Agriculture Program; Douglas Stokke, assistant professor of natural resources ecology and management; and Daniel Burden, a program coordinator for the Value Added Agriculture Program. They're working with LDJ Manufacturing of Pella, the Iowa Area Development Group and Pella Cooperative Electric to develop higher burn rate efficiencies for the company's corn-burning stoves and boilers.