Andrew Towey Sandwich, Mass. / 22 Biological Systems Engineering BS, 2015 Iowa State University Process Development Engineer Renewable Energy Group, Ames, Iowa In high school, I worked on a small farm in Cape Cod, Mass., where my enthusiasm for ag grew. Searching college programs, I got excited about engineers working with biofuels. Proficient in math and science with a specific interest in biology, biological systems engineering clicked with me—and I discovered ISU offered a biorenewable emphasis. (The emphasis of ag and biosystems engineering departments varies widely, so it is crucial that your interests and the department’s align.) Although I am passionate about renewable fuels and environmental stewardship, I also love Jeeps, which are not known to be the most fuel-efficient vehicles. That said, my father and I rebuilt and modified a 1999 Jeep TJ, one of my cherished possessions. While at Iowa State, I signed on with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Forest Bioproducts Research Institute in Orono, Maine. As part of a research team that investigated the feasibility of producing biooils using biomass from forest and paper industries, I determined a series of ternary diagrams for mixtures of water, furfural, levulinic, and formic acid. I also set up a Rousselet Robatel UX 1.3 Mixer-Settler system, and created the operation procedure manual for this system in the lab. I traveled to Concepcion, Chile, to present the work at the Unidad De Desarrollo Tecnologico. I visited the University of Concepcion, an industrial lumber manufacturing facility, had lunch with the Mapuche—the indigenous people of Chile—and took in the local culture. Immersed in a different culture, it’s extremely humbling to see how many people outside of the U.S. are bilingual. I also interned with Renewable Energy Group (REG) in Ames to evaluate a patent-pending glycerin refining method. I used lab-scale equipment to replicate and refine the patent process to see if any expansions could be made to the patent before the application deadline. I successfully presented my findings to the CEO and company executives. Now full-time at REG, when people ask about my job, I can say, “It’s classified!” I work on projects that involve patents and technologies—intellectual property. Generally, however, my projects involve the pretreatment of feedstocks used to produce biodiesel, either lab or pilot scale. In school I learned how to problem solve and reach for applicable resources. However, the best job preparation was outside the classroom, participating in internships and BioBus, a student organization that takes used cooking oil from a dining center on campus and converts it to biodiesel for the campus bus system. I learned a great deal of technical knowledge in college, but it takes internships and work experience to understand how to successfully apply that knowledge in industry.
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