Imagine replacing the derivatives of crude oil needed to produce conventional asphalt with renewable, cost-competitive, regionally produced, and high-performing materials derived from non-food biomass such as switchgrass, hybrid poplar, or cornstover. The idea portends a whole new world of possibilities and likely could stand the traditional petroleum-based economy on its head.
Researchers at Iowa State University are doing just that, producing bio-oil and bio-char through a process called fast pyrolysis. New bio-oil fractionation technologies also developed at ISU separate the bio-oil into different fractions—some of which appear to be ideal materials for asphalt.
In addition to developing thermoplastic elastomers (polymers) from vegetable oils—which offer many transportation-related applications—ISU researchers are examining and exploring the “bioeconomy,” from all phases of the production process to product development and diversification opportunities.
Such collaborative opportunities involving transportation and the bioeconomy were featured during a half-day TERRA Innovation Series event in August at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
A bioeconomy makes use of biorenewable resources, including biomass, for the production of chemicals, fuels, materials, and energy to sustain economic growth and prosperity. Iowa State’s bioeconomy research is cross-disciplinary and includes research groups from the areas of agriculture, plant sciences, agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, mechanical engineering, chemical and biological engineering, civil engineering, and numerous others.
Read the full article in the October issue of TERRA E-News.