Robert C. Brown: biofuels are best option to harness solar energy

AMES, Iowa -- Robert C. Brown knows he's come up with a provocative title for this fall's Presidential University Lecture.

Robert C. Brown

Robert C. Brown says there are some good reasons for producing biofuels. Photo by Bob Elbert.

"Why are We Producing

Does he plan to question the industry? Will he challenge the industry's sustainability? Will he speculate on the industry's readiness to meet the country's renewable fuel mandate? Will he argue the industry is our best option as an alternative to petroleum transportation fuels?

Brown -- the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering, Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and Iowa Farm Bureau director of Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute -- will tackle all these issues during his lecture at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27, in the Sun Room of Iowa State's Memorial Union. A reception and display of student research will precede the lecture at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union's South Ballroom. The events are free and open to the public.

Brown, who studies the conversion of biomass to biofuels using thermochemical technologies such as fast pyrolysis and gasification, will talk about the U.S. Congress mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels within 15 years. He'll talk about the charges some have raised that biofuels take food from people and increase greenhouse gas emissions. He'll look at some of the alternatives to biofuels.

Then he'll make his argument for the future of transportation fuel: "Our energy options come down to solar energy," he said.

And that leads us to the definition of biorenewables in Brown's textbook, "Biorenewable Resources: Engineering New Products from Agriculture." Brown defines biorenewables as crops, forests, prairies, marshes and fisheries that collect energy from the sun and convert it into chemical bonds that produce proteins, oils and carbohydrates. That "stored chemical energy," Brown wrote, can be used as the raw material for fuels, chemicals and fibers.

Converting plants and biomass into biofuels is the most economical and efficient way to capture and utilize solar energy, Brown said.

And so, he'll argue during his lecture, there are some very good reasons why we are producing biofuels.

The Presidential University Lecture Series was created in 2003 by Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy to highlight the expertise and excellence of Iowa State faculty.