Bioprocessing in Iowa: Reflecting on our journey : Biofuels Digest


By Debi Durham, Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority

Special to The Digest

As we draw closer to the 2019 BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on all the hard work and dedication that led to Iowa becoming the first non-coastal or Canadian host of the event. While we presented a great pitch to organizers, what went into our selection as host was years in the making.

Iowa has long been recognized for its agricultural heritage, and rightfully so. We’re proud of the fields that dominate our landscape, but Iowa is so much more. For decades, we’ve applied our work ethic and expertise in laboratories, innovation centers and refineries throughout the state. As a result, we’ve become a leader in bioprocessing, in addition to our agrarian achievements.

There’s a lot happening on the biosciences front in the Hawkeye State. For starters, Iowa is home to more plant and soil scientists than any other U.S. state. Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, POET, REG, Syngenta and many more of the industry’s biggest players have operations in Iowa. And our universities are making new discoveries at their world-renowned bioprocessing research facilities.

So, though we expect our BIO World Congress guests to not only leave Iowa with a new appreciation for sweet corn and pork tenderloin, we’re also confident they’ll depart with an appreciation of Iowa’s standing as a biosciences leader. Here are three reasons that rise to the top:

  1. Business-friendly environment

Iowa’s pro-business government has been committed to advancing biosciences in the state for years. One way we’ve attracted new business is through competitive incentives, including America’s first Renewable Chemicals Production Tax Credit, which went into effect in 2016. This credit offers companies up to $1 million annually in tax benefits for producing renewable chemicals in Iowa derived from biomass feedstocks and has been hailed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the “strongest” incentive package for the global bio-based chemical industry.

  1. Unmatched research and technological infrastructure

Across the state, our institutions of higher education have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to keeping Iowa’s innovation pipeline full and thriving. For example:

  • Founded in 2008, Iowa State University’s (ISU) Center for Biorenewable Chemicals conducts targeted engineering research to identify ways to help increase the range of valuable chemicals derived from renewable carbon sources. The center’s vision is to decrease our reliance on fossil carbon sources by building a more sustainable future through biorenewable chemicals.
  • ISU also is home to the BioCentury Research Farm (the first integrated research and demonstration facility in the nation dedicated to biomass production and processing) and the Bioeconomy Institute (which works to advance the use of biorenewable resources to produce fuels, energy, chemicals, and materials).
  • Not to be outdone by their in-state rivals, the University of Iowa’s Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing, which dates back to 1983, is the first of its kind dedicated to biocatalysis, the use of natural substances to speed up chemical reactions. At its 13,000-square-foot laboratory, scientists perform state-of-the-art fermentation, downstream purification, bioprocessing and analytical services.
  1. Location, location, location

A great transportation network, affordable utilities and abundant biomass resources – Iowa has them all. And each play a vital role in fueling our state’s bioeconomy.

  • Major interstates and highways, more than 2,400 miles of railway tracks, 60 river barge terminals and international airports all serve Iowa. Furthermore, Iowa’s industrial electricity rates are 21 percent lower than the national average.
  • Iowa has 13.5 million acres of planted corn, the most of any state in the nation. We also have more than 9.8 million acres of planted soybeans – all of which means Iowa offers the second-highest number of acres of harvestable biomass in the country, and the ability to harvest 14.4 million dry tons of biomass per year.
  • Additionally, the state boasts 43 processing facilities that produce over a quarter of U.S. ethanol, and 12 refineries that produce 16 percent of U.S. biodiesel. The biofuel industry accounts for more than $5 billion, or about 3 percent, of Iowa’s gross domestic product.

As you can see, we have much to be excited about and we’re looking forward to sharing that excitement with the world. Business leaders, academics and decision makers from more than 20 countries will soon descend upon Iowa for a week’s worth of informative sessions, interactive workshops and presentations across six dynamic track topics. They’ll also be treated to a preview of “what’s-to-come” as the Start-Up Stadium brings forward 32 early-stage companies – including several based in Iowa – to present new technologies and value propositions before an audience of investors, analysts and strategists.

We’re looking forward to this one-of-a-kind exchange of ideas and showing the world everything Iowa has to offer in the industrial biotechnology sector. We hope to see you there!

Debi Durham was appointed to lead the Iowa Economic Development Authority by Governor Terry Branstad in January 2011 and as of 2019, also serves as the director of the Iowa Finance Authority. Previously, she served as president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and the Siouxland Initiative. Join Debi and other members of the Iowa Economic Development Authority in Des Moines for the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, July 8-11, 2019. For more information, visit

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