Not many teenagers have an ethanol producing facility in their basement, but for Eric Koelmoos, a student from the South O’Brien FFA Chapter in Paullina, Iowa, it was all part of his supervised agricultural experience (SAE).
Eric’s idea for his high school SAE sprung out of a science fair project for biology class. He looked at the ethanol industry and was curious if ethanol could be made from switchgrass and prairie cordgrass. He began his research, utilizing knowledge from his animal science class.
“A cellulosic ethanol plant and a cow’s rumen are two very, very similar things,” Eric said.
Creating ethanol from prairie grasses, Eric said, is important because it can “better the toolbox” for potential energy sources that will eventually replace oil.
“It can help use less of the high-quality ground that we can grow corn on and other types of crops, and then on the poor quality ground we can grow switchgrass and prairie cordgrass and produce ethanol,” Eric said.
With his at-home, ATF-approved ethanol facility, Eric had to get creative to match the processes used in a commercial ethanol plant. In high school, his research competed nationally and internationally against the work of college researchers with more funding and better facilities, and Eric said he was proud of and took value in his research experience.
Now as an agricultural education student at Kansas State University, Eric has participated in research with the Kansas FFA Agriscience Fair, evaluating how the fair can grow and how to deal with barriers that Kansas ag teachers may deal with regarding the fair.
Eric said his goal is to be a high school ag teacher and FFA advisor, utilizing the skills he strengthened through his FFA and research experiences to help “spark some ideas in the next generation of agriculturalists.”