ISU breaks ground on biorenewables laboratory

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted Sept. 15, 2008 at 2:39 p.m. CST

Demonstrating Iowa's pro-active persona in supporting the nation's biorenewable industry, Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy, behind the wheel of a John Deere backhoe, removed the first chunk of earth at the future location of a 166,000 square-foot biorenewable laboratory.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held Sept. 8 on the west side of the ISU campus in Ames, Iowa. The lab will cost $32 million to construct, but is only a portion of a much larger project-a $99 million biorenewable complex which will eventually include two additional buildings to house an agricultural and biosystems engineering department, and an open atrium which will connect all three sections.

The facility will provide a home for several biorenewables programs developed by the ISU faculty in the last six years, said Robert Brown, an ISU engineering professor and Iowa Farm Bureau director of Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute. The complex will include a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, for which the NSF awarded the university $18 million Sept. 5 to construct. The center's focus will be developing catalysts that promote chemical reactions to efficiently produce biorenewable chemicals. Other programs include a Biobased Industries Center to work on business and policy issues in biorenewables; a harvest, storage and transportation consortium, and a biorenewables education program sponsored by the Cargill Foundation.

The lab, which will also serve as the new headquarters for Iowa State's Bioeconomy Institute, will provide a central home for the university's discovery, outreach and educational activities in biorenewables.

Geoffroy said the facility will be a central part in building the state of Iowa into a world center of biorenewable resource research and development. "It will provide the support our faculty needs to make breakthroughs in this very important area, and it will help them develop new partnerships with government and the private sector and significantly increase funding for initiatives at Iowa State University," he said.

The state of Iowa provided $32 million to build the laboratory; additional funding to complete the project will be through private fundraising. According to the university, in 2006, Virgin Elings, a 1961 ISU graduate, donated $5 million toward the second phase of the project which will house the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering. It will be named, Elings Hall.