NSF Science & Engineering Messengers

Archive for October 2012

If You Build It: Harnessing Science for Iowa’s Future

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[Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory]

This is a sample blog post composed for the NSF “Science: Becoming the Messenger” workshop in Ames, Iowa, October 16-17, 2012.

We all know the scene from the movie Field of Dreams, in which a mysterious voice, carried on the wind rustling through the cornfield, tells Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, “If you build it, he will come.” It may be the single most iconic Iowa moment in popular culture. But perhaps it takes on a new meaning when you consider Iowa’s prominent role, today, in generating clean energy from the winds that rustle through cornfields–and from those fields themselves. The state’s already building it—and economic prosperity is likely to come as a result.

Leveraging science to advance Iowa’s clean energy economy is the chief goal of a new $ 20 million, five year grant from the NSF EPSCoR program (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). The initiative focuses on the clean energy fields where the state already has a natural, home team advantage: Iowa already leads the U.S. in biofuels production, for instance, and it is second only to the much larger Texas in wind power generation. In each case, however, we’re largely reliant on “first generation” forms of these technologies—corn-based ethanol, for instance, or today’s familiar wind turbines. The central goal of the new initiative is to uncover the next generation technologies that will give the state—and companies founded or working there—a leg up on the competition.

Take biofuels. We’ve all heard about the “food versus fuel” issues that arise with the use of ethanol from corn–underscoring why it’s important to get past first generation biofuels and on to more promising possibilities (sometimes called “advanced biofuels”) that don’t have the same baggage. Just consider: While turning corn into fuel has its problems, when farmers harvest corn they leave behind the stalk and the leaves, the so-called “corn residue.” So imagine if some part of that residue—made up of cellulosic biomass–could also be harvested and turned into fuel. There won’t be any food-versus-fuel issues any longer—there’ll just be a new source of energy. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by nsfmessengers

October 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized