Extension News

Food, Fuel, and Climate: Moving from Debate to Dialogue


AMES, Iowa – Rather than fanning the flames of the heated food versus fuel debate, the 2008 BioBased Industry Outlook Conference at Iowa State University will initiate a dialogue between prominent speakers who provide different perspectives on three critical bioeconomy issues: 

  • competing processing technologies for producing biofuels;  
  • the advantages and disadvantages of food-based versus non-food feedstocks; and
  • the impact of biofuels on climate change.

In a “point/counterpoint” format, six internationally renowned speakers will take the Stephens Auditorium stage from 8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 8, for plenary sessions as part of the sixth annual BioBased Industry Outlook Conference, “Growing the Bioeconomy: From Foundational Science to Sustainable Practice.” 

The full conference – including research talks, field tours and harvest demonstrations – will be Sept. 7-9. Early registration ends Aug. 7. Registration information is at http://www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/bio2008/register.html.

The first plenary discussion will focus on alternative approaches to processing biomass for fuels and other products. Charles Wyman, the Ford Motor Company chair in environmental engineering at the University of California at Riverside, will discuss the advantages and promise of biological conversion of biomass to ethanol and related fuels. John R. Regalbuto, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will discuss the merits of thermochemical conversion of biomass to alternative biofuels and bioproducts.

Addressing elements of the “food vs. fuel” debate, the second dialogue deals with first generation (grain-based) and second generation (cellulosic) biomass feedstocks. Theodore M. Crosbie, vice president of global plant breeding of the Monsanto Agriculture Sector, will discuss technical and political reasons why corn will remain the primary feedstock for biofuels for the foreseeable future in the United States. G. David Tilman, regents professor of ecology and the McKnight University presidential  chair in ecology at the University of Minnesota, will discuss the benefits of transitioning to a biologically diverse system of polycultures and perennials to supply the bioeconomy and to provide other ecosystem services for society.

The final dialogue will examine biofuels’ impact on global climate change. Stephen P. Long, the University of Illinois Robert Emerson Professor and chief, founding editor of Global Change Biology and deputy director of the new Energy Biosciences Institute, will defend the merits of biofuels for carbon dioxide reduction. Timothy D. Searchinger, visiting scholar and lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, will defend his position that grain-based ethanol production is actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions due to indirect land use changes. Searchinger recently published an article in Science Express challenging the purported benefits of biofuels for carbon dioxide mitigation that has been widely quoted in the popular press.

Iowa State University’s BioBased Industry Outlook Conference concentrates on the growing bioeconomy and addressing issues of major global importance. Conference sessions will feature cutting-edge research on cellulosic feedstocks production and processing technologies; biomass harvest, storage, and transportation systems; biofuels and climate change; and human, social, economic, and policy dimensions of the bioeconomy.

Conference highlights also include half-day tours focusing on new biomass crops and cropping systems research and demonstrations of biomass harvest equipment prototypes, all at the Iowa State University New Century Farm.

For additional conference details visit www.bioeconomyconference.org.

– 30 –

Contacts :
Jill Euken, Bioeconomy Institute, (712) 769-2600, jeuken@iastate.edu
MaryAnn Sherman, Bioeconomy Institute, (515) 294-8473, msherman@iastate.edu
Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917, mkrapfl@iastate.edu