shutterstock_162617765Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor is well positioned to contribute to Iowa’s energy economy

By Julie Lelonek, Marketing and Business Engagement

After a year of comprehensive planning, Iowa’s Energy Plan was unveiled by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds at a recent news conference at the Iowa State Capital. The plan’s vision statement and guiding principles outline a ten-year planning horizon of the state’s goals and strategies with 15 objectives and 45 strategies making up the plan. The goal is “to encourage growth in all of Iowa’s energy sectors while emphasizing sustainable practices, economic development throughout the state, and supporting the research and development required to keep Iowa on the leading edge of energy innovation.”

One theme identified as key in the plan is Iowa’s Biomass Potential with regard to the role biomass could play as part of a diverse energy portfolio. Whether used to create biomass electricity or produce biofuels, the plan notes the use of biomass to produce electricity directly or to produce biogas remains an untapped potential and abundant resource. It is projected that by 2030, Iowa will be the nation’s leading source of crop residues and manure – estimated at 31 million metric tons – for potential bioenergy use.

Furthermore, connections were highlighted between agriculture and biomass and their importance for rural economic development. The plan states, “Data analysis performed during the planning process confirmed that biomass has the potential to have an impact on Iowa’s energy economy. As such, biomass has emerged as a focus area for the Iowa’s Energy Resources pillar, building on Iowa’s strength in available feedstock resources, workforce, and research in the area.”

Other key areas identified as having the highest impact and most near-term potential are: Technology-based Research and Development, Workforce Development, Support for Rural and Underserved Areas, Natural Gas Expansion in Underserved Areas, Electric Grid Modernization and Alternative Fuel Vehicles.

Infrastructure in place
Already established as the national leader in biomass availability, biofuels, agricultural feedstocks and chemical production, Iowa has a unique head start towards its “ideal future in terms of its energy use and resources.” Iowa has by far the most-advanced biorenewables infrastructure in the nation with an abundance of resources available. This is no more apparent than within Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor. With the potent concentration of valuable agbioscience resources at its disposal, the Corridor region is well positioned to help meet Iowa’s future energy resource challenges and opportunities. Sited within the Corridor are the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Center for Biorenewable Chemicals, the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, the Bioeconomy Institute, Renewable Energy Group and DuPont’s Cellulosic Ethanol Facility – the largest cellulosic ethanol facility in the world. This comprehensive network of private, academic and government-funded laboratories is working to advance the commercialization of value-added, crop-based products and bio-based chemicals, polymers and fuels.

Research being done within the Corridor at the Ames Laboratory will be instrumental to the plan as well. The plan notes, “[The Ames Lab] is particularly important to the Iowa Energy Plan because its research focuses on materials used in modern clean energy technologies.”

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Biofuels role in stimulating the economy
The plan acknowledges the critical role biofuels have played in Iowa’s economy. Iowa is rich with ethanol and biodiesel; it is the leading producer of starch-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel production. Biorefineries’ demand creation for crops such as corn and soybeans has boosted Iowa’s agricultural economy as they work to provide “a more climate-friendly alternative to petroleum based fuels.”

A Core Competency Report was prepared as part of the planning process. Within it, several energy-based economic development opportunities for Iowa around biofuels were identified: livestock waste-to-biogas projects, development of modular biopower systems for distributed generation, and value-added chemicals from biofeedstocks.

An example given of an innovative biogas pilot project currently underway is the joint project with Chevron U.S.A. and Iowa State’s BioCentury Research Farm. They are “developing and demonstrating an advanced biorenewables technology known as solvent liquefaction. The technology converts biomass into a bio-oil that can be processed into renewable fuels, biochemcials or biochar, a product that can enrich soils and help to offset CO2 emissions.”

Iowa Renewable Fuels As­­sociation (IRFA) Executive Dir­ector Monte Shaw made the following statement after the unveiling of the plan:

“IRFA appreciates Lt. Gov. Reynolds’ recognition of the role biofuels have played in powering Iowa’s economy. And we commend the Iowa Energy Plan for seeking to build on this foundation, as there is much more biofuels and biomass can do for Iowa in the future. Optimizing vehicles for biofuels and empowering consumers to choose higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel will be keys to unlocking this potential. We look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Reynolds to put this plan in action for the betterment of Iowa farmers, consumers and workers.”

Investing in the future
As part of the plan, the state will invest in research, development and commercialization of new technologies to keep Iowa at the forefront of energy policy while also developing new markets and job opportunities.

“Iowa recognizes and has identified energy as a key resource and area of strategic importance to the state’s economy and economic development efforts. Iowa is already a national leader in wind energy and biodiesel and ethanol production. State leaders want to ensure that we continue to lead well into the future,” said Reynolds.

The path toward a sustainable energy future has great promise thanks to the state’s prior planning and the strategic visioning within the plan. The Iowa legislature’s passing of the Renewable Chemicals Production Tax Credit Program in April 2016 increased the incentive for national biochemical companies and pioneering new businesses to set up shop in the state. Adding to that, the state has demonstrated a long-standing commitment of investing in R&D, providing support for rural areas and support for ethanol and biodiesel through tax incentives and programs, helping to advance growth in these areas.

The plan calls for supporting private investment in biomass energy projects to “enable more effective translational deployment of innovative biomass technologies to occur by accelerating funding access for early stage companies as well as enabling more established companies to deploy new ventures or expand current projects in biomass-related markets.”

The Iowa Energy Plan was developed under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress (IPEP) board members. The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) led the development of the plan supported by a consulting team led by Inova Energy Group, LLC with specialized project support from Elevate Energy and TEConomy Partners, LLC.

“I am proud to have chaired our statewide energy planning effort, along with leadership support from board members of the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress, and representatives from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Department of Transportation. The plan solidifies Iowa’s place as a global trailblazer for energy initiatives. Creation of the statewide energy plan will keep Iowa at the forefront of energy policy and will allow our state to develop a forward path for the future,” said Reynolds. 

Collaborating locally. Growing sustainably. Leading nationally.
To realize Iowa’s economic potential and continued energy leadership, the plan calls for collaborating locally, growing sustainably, and leading nationally. The plan acknowledges that implementation will require the work of individuals, municipalities, universities, business organizations, nonprofits and energy trade organizations and associations in order to be successful.

Within the Corridor, the region is poised to answer the call by its continued sharing of expertise and resources, continued collaborations between private, academic and government-funded institutions and the government, while leading the way to innovation and commercialization to ensure Iowa’s energy leadership in the future.