November 21, 2003
The big picture
Associate professor Rob Anex is internationally recognized for his
application of a "life cycle analysis" technique to biorenewable and
"It's a simple idea. We add up all the resources used and the environmental
impacts of producing a certain product," he said. "It's essentially a
'cradle to grave' analysis of everything from the growing of the raw
material, the processing, the waste that results, the use of the product and
its eventual disposal."
Anex uses this type of analysis to determine the viability of new biobased
products and identify potential improvements at plants where biobased
products are manufactured.
"The plant manager may think one step in the process is inefficient. But an
analysis may show that making a change there will cause inefficiencies
elsewhere," Anex said. "That's why it's important to look at the whole
Anex joined Iowa State this summer in a position created as part of the
university's new bioeconomy initiative.
A little comfort food
An Iowa State researcher internationally known for his work on tofu
processing recently turned his attention to a loftier audience -- space
travelers. Food scientist Lester Wilson took part in the NASA faculty
fellowship program and spent 10 weeks at the Johnson Space Center, Houston.
Wilson evaluated soybean production and processing that might occur on a
planetary outpost mission to the Moon or Mars. Soybeans are one of 16 crops
targeted for production in space. NASA chose the Hoyt soybean variety
because it is a dwarf variety, yields well, is high in protein and can be
Those characteristics might make the Hoyt a natural for space, but Wilson
found it doesn't produce soy milk or tofu astronauts would enjoy.
"The bean has a black hylum and black coloring on the seed coat," Wilson
said. "So both the soy milk and tofu were a grayish color. And the tofu
wouldn't form a good curd so it didn't stick together very well. People away
from home want comfort food, not something strange-looking."
Wilson had two ISU soybean varieties, and a third from Purdue University,
shipped to him in Houston. All three performed better than the Hoyt. He
recommended that food-grade varieties replace the Hoyt.
NASA officials want Wilson to return next summer.
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Published by: University Relations,
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