An Iowa State University research project in conjunction with ConocoPhillips is trying to make a viable synthetic diesel fuel out of biomass products. Robert Brown, the director of Biorenewables Programs at ISU, says this process is different from others that turn things like grass and corn stalks into fuel.
Brown says most people think of the fermentation process to make ethanol, but he says they are going to use heat to make what’s called the Fischer-Tropsch liquid. Brown says they have the reactor to make the liquid, they now need to improve it.
Brown says the major goal is to make sure the project can make the gas clean enough. The U.S. Department of Energy recently gave the project another two-million dollars for the research. Brown says the goal is within two years to put together the combination of gas production and gas cleanup to be able to demonstrate the fuel. He says it will be indistinguishable from normal diesel fuel. Brown says the one setback is the cost of building a plant to produce the fuel.
Brown says once corn is about three dollars a fuel, the cellulosic fuels look competitive. He says the only problem is the cost to build the plants is quite a bit more than for a grain ethanol plant. Brown said the Department of Energy award says a lot about the ConocoPhillips research program and how far along it is in the process.