Iowa Central breaks ground on new biofuels-testing lab
The Iowa Central Biofuels Testing Lab first got its start in a small space in the Science Building on the Fort Dodge Campus.
Originally designed as a teaching lab, it quickly outgrew its original space and relocated to the first floor of the Bioscience and Health Sciences Building when it first opened in 2009.
“We originally started out from a grant that was to start a two-year biofuels program, that was around 2005,” said Don Heck, director of the fuel lab.
As the lab grew, it became the first independent testing facility of its kind in the United States.
“Not many schools have these labs,” Heck said. “There is not another lab in the nation with this functionality that is located at a community college.”
The Iowa Central lab also serves as a testing lab for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
“We are the official lab for weights and measures,” Heck said. “When the state needs that done, it all goes through Iowa Central.”
As the demand for additional fuel testing increases, so will the need for more staff and equipment.
The first step in making a larger space for the lab a reality took place July 17 during a groundbreaking for a new fuel-testing lab located west of the Iowa Central campus on A Street West, just off U.S. Highway 169.
The new lab will be a 9,200-square-foot facility with room for more testing equipment and inventory as well as the possibility of additional staff. It will feature an engine room where future testing of octane and cetane for fuels can be conducted.
That testing is done using benchtop single-cylinder engines.
“There will be a specialized room for octane testing,” Heck said. “This building is being designed for that testing and the engines, anticipating that we will be getting them at some point in the future, if not right away.”
The expanded facility may also open the door to other forms of fuel testing to be conducted in Fort Dodge, such as sustainable aviation fuel, as well as bring more fuel manufacturing to the state.
“Having jet-fuel capabilities would expand the options for what fuels the state can test,” Heck said. “It would make it possible for sustainable jet-fuel manufacturers to come into Iowa and test their products in state.”
The larger facility will allow each employee to have office space. Presently, there are three offices for six employees in the current lab area.
“The new space will make things much more functional,” Heck said. “And with more space and capabilities, we could eventually double our staff.”
The lab will be constructed with the main entrance and parking lot facing west. Open space to the north of the facility would leave room for future expansion.
“Iowa Central has become a dominant presence in the biofuels-testing industry,” said Jesse Ulrich, president of Iowa Central, during the groundbreaking. “We don’t plan to stop anytime soon.”
The new biofuels-testing lab is expected to be complete in fall 2024.