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Engineering

Jeremy Westra

Jeremy Westra

Jeremy Westra, Danielle Kelderman, and Andrew Tacoma helped refine a small scale process for producing ethanol from sweet sorghum. The three served as assistants for Dr. Ethan Brue’s project funded by the Iowa Energy Center to design a system that could be used on a family farm to produce ethanol for its own use. Last year senior engineers designed equipment for the fermentation process that needs to occur in order to turn the biomass to ethanol. This summer’s students did further testing of the equipment and modified it so that it would perform better. They also developed a computer interface to control distillation of the alcohol.

“They often worked without my assistance, solving problems together,” says Brue of the value of working as a group. The students also monitored and tested the sorghum plot to gather growing information, because an important part of the process is knowing when to harvest the crop so that it has the right sugar content. They occasionallly even weeded sorghum together. “It was a good time to get to know one another better,” says Brue.

The Iowa Energy Center project will be completed this year, but Brue says his students could do worthwhile research on related projects for years to come. He is committed to projects like this that generate interest in the community, starting conversations about important issues like the relationship between food and fuel.