Fall 2021 Newsletter

September 20, 2021

In this edition:

Packaging, processing and waste reduction: Vorst labs joining the BCRF facility

BCRF Alumni Spotlight: Juli Henderson


Packaging, processing and waste reduction: Vorst labs joining the BCRF facility

Vorst gives a tour of the new lab space at BCRF during a meeting of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium on September 16.
Vorst gives a tour of the new lab space at BCRF during a meeting of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium on September 16.

With the expansion of research spaces at BCRF comes new research groups and exciting projects. Dr. Keith Vorst, associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University, recently moved some of his large-scale processing and manufacturing labs from the main ISU campus to BCRF, bringing along sustainability research that fits right in with many current projects at the facility.

The decision to move to BCRF was sparked by a need for more space as well as for a more isolated lab area away from main campus. The processes conducted in Vorst’s lab are often loud—and as he says, sometimes smelly—so a location at the facility 7 miles from main campus and the rest of the group’s analytical labs was ideal for all.

Vorst, who also serves as the director of the Polymer and Food Protection Consortium, has a number of projects in progress focusing on recycling of packaging and consumer waste. The group aims to provide sustainable solutions to the problem of plastic waste by both finding ways to recycle existing plastic into new products and developing formulas for bio-based materials. His research also explores the potential for this application in other industries, including automotive and furniture.  

Dr. Keith Vorst
Dr. Keith Vorst

“What I like to tell people is, if it’s in a package, we’re involved in some way or another,” Vorst said. “We do a lot of helping sustainability initiatives with different companies.”

The group’s packaging research focuses not only on sustainability and recycling, but also on function and design, material performance and consumer safety. For Vorst, the goals for the group and the industry partners they work with are multi-faceted.

“If they're going to include landfill waste, it's got to be safe for use,” he said. “It's got to be consumer friendly, [and] it's got to be environmentally friendly.”

Allowing ISU faculty to easily work with industry partners is a core function of the BCRF facility, which also contributed to Vorst’s motivation to move some of his labs. As the group grows, the BCRF location offers better accessibility for meetings with industry partners and supporters for ongoing research. Among those companies are Amazon and Whole Foods, as well as the Department of Energy which supports Vorst’s landfill waste recycling work taking place at BCRF.

The Polymer and Food Protection Consortium hosted their first meeting at BCRF on Sept. 16, with a number of ISU staff and industry partners present. Vorst’s recently established lab space is still being set up and so has yet to begin any processing, but the final touches needed to continue research in the new area are being completed with a goal to begin work soon.


Juli Henderson
Juli Henderson

BCRF Alumni Spotlight: Juli Henderson

Student Employee at BCRF:

Degree: B.S. Animal Science, 2018

Current Position: 4th Year Veterinary Student, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine

While the BCRF facility houses a host of engineering and technology research groups, our student employees come from all backgrounds and departments at Iowa State University.

For Juli Henderson, majoring in animal science didn’t deter her from joining the BCRF team and expanding her skillset beyond the machinery experience she had from growing up on a farm in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

“I learned how to drive many different implements and equipment, beyond what I already knew from growing up on a farm,” Henderson said. “I have no doubt I'll still be driving tractors in the future, and getting to do so at the BCRF was a fun perk of the job.”

While an aspiring professional in veterinary medicine may appear out of the ordinary at the facility, Henderson said the gap between disciplines isn’t as wide as it may seem. The knowledge she gained of forages and grains—and their processing and usage—now serves as valuable background information for understanding the diet of her large animal patients.

“I learned a ton about how we can process these materials to become animal feed, food for ourselves or fuel,” Henderson said, “the first of those being an incredibly important part of caring for and understanding the well-being of livestock.”

Looking back on her time at BCRF, a favorite memory for Henderson was the unpredictable nature of the job. Every day at work was a new and interesting experience or opportunity for learning, covering everything from algae production to chemical processing.

Henderson will graduate in May 2022 as a newly minted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and plans to pursue a career predominantly practicing large animal medicine.

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