In the days and weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, many Americans struggled to make sense of the events, but for Klein Ileleji, who spends his days focusing on energy issues, they brought clarity.
In Ileleji's view, the United States' presence in the Middle East, tied in part to a dependence on energy, was at the root of the attack. As he sees it, energy dependence will continue to threaten the United States and many other parts of the world without real changes in fuel technology. This awareness helped sharpen his research focus on the logistics and management of sustainable fuel development and production.
"9-11 started a conversation about why people attacked us," Ileleji says. "We depend on other countries for energy supplies and then we have to invest our resources and troops in places where we have interests in energy."
Ileleji's research in affordable, renewable fuels may hold the key to future energy independence. His aim is to make fuels such as corn ethanol more affordable by increasing the value of its coproduct, known as distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), which is commonly used as animal feed. Approximately 28.3 million metric tons of DDGS are created in the United States each year. That is expected to increase to 34.7 million metric tons by 2011-2012.
Ileleji’s work with DDGS promises to improve both the quality and the cost of DDGS for livestock producers, resulting in a sustainable energy source that yields increased profits.
"We want to optimize corn so that we don't have the food versus fuel question," Ileleji says. "It doesn't have to be one or the other."
In terms of quality, Ileleji has created formulas that may help producers overcome the challenge of uniformity of product. One batch of DDGS may have more protein or less fiber than the next, creating uncertainty for a livestock producer interested in using it as a feed source. Ileleji’s formulas can create a batch of DDGS that meets the nutritional desires of a livestock producer.
He has also devised a way to counteract costly transportation problems related to the DDGS tendency to cake and become solid when exposed to moisture, which makes loading or unloading railcars nearly impossible. To avoid this, Ileleji created dense, uniform-sized DDGS pellets that are not subject to moisture problems.
"There are significant challenges in just getting a biofeedstock to a processing facility before it can be used as fuel," Ileleji says. "All of these have to be addressed before we can diversify our energy sources. If we solve these problems, can you imagine the impact we'll have on the United States? Let me take it a step further. If we solve these problems, the impact will be felt around the world."
Photos by: Andrew Hancock