Iowa State-ConocoPhillips alternative fuel project selected for $2 million award

AMES, Iowa -- The U.S. Department of Energy has selected an Iowa State University-ConocoPhillips research project for up to a $2 million award for the design and construction of a biomass gasification system to produce synthetic diesel fuel.

The award, once final details are negotiated with the energy department, will help support a two-year, $5.2 million research project. ConocoPhillips, the third largest integrated energy company in the United States, will provide the remainder of the project's funding. The project is part of the eight-year, $22.5 million research program ConocoPhillips is sponsoring at Iowa State.

The energy department announced Tuesday, Dec. 4, it will support the Iowa State-ConocoPhillips project as well as studies in Utah, North Carolina and Alabama with total funding up to $7.7 million over two years. The four projects won awards in a competitive selection process and all use thermochemical technologies to convert biomass into fuels.

"We are committed to expanding the sustainable production and use of biofuels and these projects will help develop cleaner methods for turning a wide variety of feedstocks into fuel," said Samuel W. Bodman, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. "Successful completion of these projects stands to redefine the way we produce America's fuels and follows the president's call to end our dependence on oil."

Robert C. Brown, the Iowa Farm Bureau Director of Biorenewables Programs at Iowa State and leader of Iowa State's work on the research project, said the study will result in the design and construction of a new biomass gasifier and gas cleanup system at Iowa State.

Gasification heats biomass without oxygen to produce a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The mixture is known as synthesis gas.

Brown said the gasifier to be built by Iowa State researchers will process 44 pounds of biomass from switchgrass every hour. That's enough to analyze and improve a process for converting biomass into synthetic diesel fuel.

That process will require seven major steps: feedstock preparation, gasification, gas cooling, tar and particulate matter removal, sulfur removal, ammonia removal and synthesis of liquid fuel.

After the gasifier is built and tested, it will be shipped to a ConocoPhillips facility where company researchers will connect the gasifier to a Fischer-Tropsch reactor that uses catalysts to produce chemical reactions that turn synthesis gas into synthetic diesel fuel.

Brown said the Department of Energy award says a lot about the ConocoPhillips research program at Iowa State.

"This is good news," Brown said. "This project shows how far along we are in our collaboration with ConocoPhillips."