ME grad student works to benefit society through biofuel research

Mark WrightMark Mba Wright grew up in Equatorial Guinea, Africa. He came to the United States as an undergraduate to study mechanical engineering with a particular interest in hydrogen and fuel cells. He was attracted to Iowa State’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) because of its national ranking and long history of engineering innovation.

Once at Iowa State, Mark discovered biofuel research and began work as an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Anson Marston Distinguished Professor Robert C. Brown. Mark took advantage of the concurrent BS/MS program, completing the BS requirements in spring 2007. His research is in technoeconomics of biofuels. Mark compares the costs of small-scale and large scale biomass-to-liquid (BTL) process systems to determine when each is technologically and economically viable for commercial use. One model Mark is studying is that of distributed biofuel manufacturing plants. These co-op sized plants are capable of producing bio-oil that can be upgraded to transportation fuel and would be shared by local farms. The cost of shipping biomass suggests that small operations may be more efficient.

Mark is currently a PhD student in ME and is a recipient of the George Washington Carver Award from the Iowa State Biorenewable Resources and Technology program. The award honors Iowa State alumnus George Washington Carver by recognizing exemplary initiatives in practical applications of research for the betterment of society. The Biorenewable Resources and Technology program is an interdisciplinary Iowa State program and is the first graduate program in biorenewable resources in the United States. Mark is working to find strategies to make biofuels economically competitive so they will be useful to society.

One highlight of Mark’s graduate experience was the opportunity to attend the international conference of SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment) Biofuels in Gummersbach, Germany. He sat at the table with Nobel laureates and was able to gain a global perspective of the value of biofuels research.

By studying at one of the few universities with advanced research in technoeconomics of second-generation biofuel technologies, Mark has access to top researchers and many world-class research instruments on campus, all of which allow him to continue his quest to identify thermochemical biofuel research applications of greatest value to society.