Biofuel lab needs more room

Iowa Central Community College’s biofuels testing lab has grown beyond expectations.

According to Don Heck, lab director, the lab has been busy since April.

“Last year, after the first quarter, things just started really picking up,” he said. “It got real busy, and it was real busy all through the summer. Actually, it hasn’t stopped.”

In 2013, the lab doubled its expectations for revenue, Heck said.

“Our monthly revenues from a year ago have tripled, quadrupled in some months,” he said. “Going forward, I think we’ll really maintain that. Even as the industry grows, we should be growing with it too.”

Julaine Bidleman, lab manager, said the growth was unexpected.

“We established a business plan to break even through 2014,” Bidleman said. “So at the end of 2013, what we’ve seen is exponential growth.”

The Iowa Central biofuels lab specializes in testing biodiesel, diesel, ethanol and blends.

“Most of the work we do is just routine analysis,” Heck said. “We do work with some clients who are doing more research-based work, so they rely on us as sort of a support facility to help them with some of the instruments we have, that they might not be able to have on their own.”

The lab also participates in some studies.

“We did a cold flow study with the National Biodiesel Board and some other groups are involved in that, gathering information about diesel, biodiesel, and how they work in cold weather,” Heck said.

The lab, located in Iowa Central’s Bioscience and Health Sciences building, has four full-time staff, two part-time and one student intern.

Because of its success, finding a larger location for the lab is now being considered, Heck said.

“We have to move out at some point if this keeps growing and expanding the way we are now. We don’t have a choice,” Heck said. “Five years ago when we designed this building and this particular footprint, it’s amazing at the time thinking there’s no way I’m going to fill up this 3,000-square-foot laboratory. It’s just testimony to how successful this venture has been. We are just stuffed to the rafters in there. I don’t have anymore room for equipment. I don’t have room for anymore people.”

Heck said he appreciates the lab’s success.

“I came here to Iowa Central eight and a half years ago to build a biofuels program and sort of revamp the biotech program. This independent fuel testing laboratory wasn’t even on the radar screen. The whole thing was kind of serendipitous,” he said. “It all sort of grew out of that original goal of creating a biofuels programs and building a teaching laboratory for the students.”

According to Bidleman, both the college and the community benefit.

“What I think is cool about the lab is basically the community college already reaches out educationally to the community and beyond, and they have been very good to see that biofuels industry is growing in our area,” she said. “For us to not only educate people in the area, but also offer assistance to the biofuels industry, and we can do that. And we not only do that for the state of Iowa, we do that for up to 38 states right now and some international sites as well.”