Iowa State University researchers working with what are known as biomass materials are getting four million dollars in funding from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy. Robert Brown, director of I-S-U’s Office of Biorenewables Programs, says biomass is any material of biological origin, like wood, grass or even manure. He says biomass is used now for food and feed and there are applications for fiber. He says they want to extend those uses for polymers, lubricants and fuels as well. Brown says one of the I-S-U research projects is focusing on the grain byproducts left over after corn is made into ethanol. He says there’s a pretty good market for it right now as cattle feed, but he says as more ethanol plants are built, they expect there to be a surplus. So, he says they look for ways to convert it into more valuable products. He says they’re looking to turn the material into a fiber. He says they’re looking to turn it into a bio-based polyester and could be turned into plastic. Brown says they have two to three years of research left to work out the technical aspects of the process. As for using biomass for fuels, Brown says that’s technically feasible, but he says the cost is the problem. He says it always comes down to competing against the inexpensive petroleum-based products. He says the cost of petroleum will have to go way up before biomass can compete.
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