Note: The video on this page includes interviews with key sources in the article, click the "play" icon to hear their story and the role of biorenewable fuels for NASCAR and the future.
Iowa State University and its long history of biofuels research, along with the important role renewable fuels play in today's economy, were addressed by speakers at a press conference May 18 in front of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. A NASCAR race car was on display, sporting ISU colors and logos.
The Chevrolet, with number 85 on the sides, was driven by Tanner Whitten in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series at 7 p.m. Saturday May 21. He's 18 years old and a senior in high school who graduated the next day, Sunday May 22.
Whitten, along with his father Tad, and officials from ISU, spoke and answered questions at the press conference. Gene Sukup, of Sukup Manufacturing at Sheffield, Iowa, also spoke. The Sukup firm, which makes bins and grain handling equipment, is helping sponsor the car, as is the 2011 Farm Progress Show.
First year of NASCAR ethanol use
This year NASCAR started fueling its stock cars with a blend of 15% ethanol made from corn grown by American farmers. This month's races at Iowa Speedway will be the first time NASCAR's ethanol-fueled cars will race in Iowa.
This is the first venture into motorsports sponsorship for ISU, and the university will sponsor Whitten only for this weekend's race. Cars in the May 22 race Sunday, a Nationwide Series race, were the first to use ethanol fuel, which was developed by Iowa State researchers in the 1930s.
Although the K&N Series will not use ethanol fuel, ISU marketing director Carol Custer is hopeful that ISU's sponsorship will increase the exposure of ethanol fuel and help convince more of the motoring public of the need to use the clean, green renewable fuel. She also hopes ISU's sponsorship will encourage all NASCAR events to make the switch to using ethanol.
ISU gets exposure with NASCAR sponsorship
The sponsorship cost ISU $5,000 which was paid from marketing department funds. "This is an opportunity to raise awareness that the university is doing a lot of work in helping develop alternative energy, including renewable fuels research," says Custer. "This is an opportunity to tell our story. ISU is doing research in products and programs that are going to make your life better. The biofuels area is part of our mission."
Tanner Whitten, who lives in Congerville, Illinois, near Bloomington in the central part of the state, has long been aware of Iowa State, though he's not a Cyclones fan. "I'm not a sports fan," he says. "I don't really pay much attention to sports outside of automobile racing."
This is Whitten's first season on the K&N Series circuit, which emphasizes young drivers. While he plans to attend a yet-to-be-determined college this fall, he's hoping to get an on-track education in the K&N Series racing and then graduate up to the Nationwide Series for NASCAR racers.
Replica of first ethanol station helps tell story
Tad Whitten, Tanner's dad and owner of In-Touch Marketing Solutions, at the May 18 press conference in front of the Iowa Capitol, told how in 2006 he discovered the story of how three Iowa State professors developed a blend of 10% ethanol in the 1930s. Advertisements of those early days of ethanol called the octane-boosting blend "a superior motor fuel" that "means prosperity for the Corn Belt."
Tad Whitten put together a 1933 replica of a filling station that sold the first ethanol or "gasohol" as it was called, in Lincoln, Nebraska. That replica station will be on display this weekend at the Iowa Speedway to help tell ethanol's story. That replica was first on view at the 2009 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.
To promote ethanol-fueled racing, Tad Whitten helped organize the May 18 "Farmers Drive Iowa" tour, a caravan of vehicles powered by renewable fuels. The vehicles included the ISU-sponsored race car, a John Deere tractor and several flex-fuel vehicles, including the pace car for the race at Iowa Speedway. The caravan started from the ISU campus in Ames, came to the state capitol grounds for the press conference in Des Moines, then proceeded to Iowa Speedway at Newton, with two promotional stops at a Kum & Go and a Casey's gas station along the way.
Need to continue educating public about biofuels
Jill Euken, co-director of the Bioeconomy Institute at ISU, said, "We take pride in the fact that three ISU faculty members created gasohol back in the early 1930s. Today, ISU builds on that legacy and on its capabilities in agriculture and engineering, to continue to grow the bioeconomy. We have over 160 faculty members on the ISU campus in agriculture, plant breeding and engineering etc., a number of departments that continue that work, to develop the next generation of biofuels. I urge you to view our website www.biorenew.iastate.edu for more information."
Eugene Sukup of Sheffield, Iowa, who founded Sukup Manufacturing in 1963, also spoke. "Ethanol has been a real boost for Iowa and indeed Midwest agriculture," he said. "Iowa has done the groundwork in developing alternative energy and has done it very well. ISU is helping to further develop renewable fuels, the next generation of biofuels."
He added, "Our business is making bins and equipment to store and handle grain, including corn that's made into ethanol. The 41 ethanol plants we have in Iowa today, plus the rest of them in the U.S., have raised the price of corn and have helped boost U.S. farm income. The big thing we all need to do today is to help address the public's understanding of the importance of biofuels and the need to continue to do research and development. Today's corn ethanol is a much needed step to help bring us to the next generation renewable fuels."