The Iowa Energy Center held a Youth and Energy Scholarship Award Ceremony at their BECON facility in Nevada Wednesday, Aug. 6. The ceremony honored high school students from across the state with scholarships for their work with renewable energy.
"We need to change the trend and make more renewable resources," said Iowa Energy Center Mark Petri.
BECON is an acronym for the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility, located at 1521 West F Avenue in Nevada. The 22,000 square foot facility allows researchers to capture more funding for their research or concepts by moving their processes to a larger scale. BECON was funded by the Iowa legislature in 1990 as part of the Iowa Energy Efficiency Act, which also funds other Iowa Energy Center facilities with different specialties throughout the state. The center’s mission is in part to ‘bring smart and sustainable energy technologies closer to market.’
"It’s imperative to have funds for our research," said Adam Kufner of Frontline Energy. "BECON lets investors see our potential."
Frontline’s operations are based out of Ames. The company is currently using the BECON facility to research methods for achieving sustainable, renewable tar-free gasification. Gasification is the process of converting organic matter or fossil fuels into a liquid for energy like gasoline or diesel. BECON often welcomes companies like Frontline to their facility and helps potential investors see the manufacturing process on a larger scale than smaller companies can provide on their own. The Iowa Energy Center has awarded over $15 million in grants to researchers over its 24 years. Citizens can also obtain loans for renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels through BECON.
The BECON Research Facility also affects the bioenergy inudstry through its educational scholarships to high school students. Since 1997, the Iowa Energy Center has awarded over 70 Youth and Energy Scholarships totaling more than $140,000. Awards are designated as tuition money at the university, college or community college of the student’s choice, with an additional $500 awarded to students who attend institutions in Iowa.
The students’ projects were based on the quality of work or research conducted, whether students used the scientific method to come to their conclusions, the impact the idea might have, creativity and articulation of their projects. The judges asked students questions, much in the same way that potential investors might ask a company to explain why their research should be chosen for a grant.
One of this year’s scholarship recipients was repeat winner Abby Walling, 17, a rising senior at Iowa City West High School. Walling went on to place fourth in the national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) competition in Phoenix, Ariz.
Walling’s project, titled "Waste No More," researched the amount of ethanol that can be generated from recycled waste like paper towels, grass clippings and newspaper. Walling compared her findings this year to her findings of last year’s project of calculating the difference in how much ethanol is produced from first-use materials as opposed to these recycled materials.
"They’re doing what I’m researching in here and what I want to do for a career," said Walling at the BECON facility. "I want to use something like this to help the environment and maybe third-world countries."
Waste No More was reviewed by Iowa Energy Center Director Mark Petri and two other judges, garnering her first prize in the state during Iowa’s STEM Fair at Iowa State University’s Hilton Coliseum. With her placing she earned a $2,500 scholarship from the Iowa Energy Center to the university or college of her choice and an extra $500 if she decides to pursue a degree in the state.
"We feel to encourage students that these meaningful scholarships make a difference," said Petri.
Petri went on to say that some students don’t realize that their project has applications for the energy field until it’s mentioned to them. This lets Petri explain some of the different opportunities a career in energy can afford.
Whether it’s with a student who receives a scholarship or with a company trying to expand their research onto a larger scale, the Iowa Energy Center tries to develop relationships with those who can help steer Iowa toward using more renewable resources.
"A lot of people don’t realize the breadth of what we do," said Petri. "We want to be in partnership; not just be a name on a check."