This is an interesting article from the Ames Tribune about Iowa State grad students creating their own bioenergy business based on the urging of their professor.
Former ISU students start bioenergy company
|By James Pusey/The Tribune
Jared Brown, Cody Ellens, Dennis Banasiak and Anthony Pollard recently started a company called Avello Bioenergy, based out of Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm west of Ames. Brown, Ellens and Pollard are all recent ISU graduates who founded the company upon the suggestion of their professor, Robert Brown.
By James Pusey
Teachers challenge their students in numerous ways, but Iowa State University’s Robert Brown had something special in mind for some of his standout graduate students.
Brown, a Distinguished Professor of Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering and Iowa Farm Bureau Director of ISU’s Bioeconomy Institute, taught these students the in’s and out’s of fast pyrolysis, a process that quickly heats biomass (such as corn stover, the stalks, leaves and cobs remaining in the field after the grain harvest) in the absence of oxygen to produce bio oil and other useful byproducts.
In 2008, before his students graduated, he pulled four of them aside and offered them a challenge.
“I suggested to them that they were the experts in the world on doing this type of thing, and they ought to consider starting their own company,” Brown said.
Today, three of those students are co-founders of a company called Avello Bioenergy, based at ISU’s BioCentury Research Farm west of Ames.
Former ISU students Cody Ellens, Anthony Pollard and Jared Brown said that after their meeting with their professor, they started working on a business plan right away.
The company’s main product is bio oil that is captured through a process pioneered by Pollard while he was working toward his master’s degree. As biomass is pyrolyzed, the technology captures bio oil in its gas form and produces a high-quality liquid that can be separated into “heavy” and “light” forms to produce different products, including bioasphalt, heating oil and roofing shingles.
“The key piece of the technology is the collection system, which allows us to collect a higher quality liquid than anybody has been able to do thus far,” Pollard said.
In September 2009, Dennis Banasiak joined the Avello team as the company’s president. Banasiak was formerly an industry liaison for ISU’s Bioeconomy Institute and worked with several other agribusiness startup companies before joining Avello.
His role has been to recruit investors and partners to raise capital for the company’s next step, he said. Though Avello has leased access to ISU’s facility at the BioCentury Research Farm, Banasiak said the company’s next goal is to build a demonstration facility that could handle 16 times the capacity of the current operation.
If all goes well, Banasiak said the demonstration facility would be up and running by the end of 2011, and he said he could see the first commercial plant built in 2013, with the possibility of six or seven other plants by 2020.
“All of that is contingent upon raising capital in a very tough capital market,” Banasiak said, “but our economics are solid, and we potentially see this as creating a new revenue stream around the corn stover for farmers.”
The company received a $150,000 demonstration grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development, Banasiak said, and a project with the Iowa Department of Transportation will allow the first test-run of the company’s bioasphalt material on an Iowa bike trail later this summer.
Though the company’s goals are aggressive, Ellens said he is optimistic about the company’s future.
“We recognize the risk,” Ellens said, “but we also see the potential for a reward, and the way things are going, we’re optimistic that we can pull it together.”
James Pusey can be reached at (515) 663-6922 or [log in to unmask].