Archived Voice Articles
Smeenk brings his perspective to industry
Jerod Smeenk (’93) is one of three principals and the engineering manager at Frontline Bioenergy, an engineering company in Ames, Iowa, that designs and installs biomass gasification systems for large industrial energy applications. Frontline lists its mission as follows: “to lead the nation in biomass gasification solutions for energy and products.” Their near-term goal, says Smeenk, is to apply biomass gasification to heat and/or combined heat and power applications to provide a renewable energy supply.
Jerod Smeenk has designed, built, and operated numerous biomass conversion systems including a fluid bed gasifier for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, several pilot gasifiers owned by Iowa State University, and several other gasifiers built by various organizations.
What are the big issues in responsible energy use?
Smeenk: The issues are, in a nutshell, national security, local and national economies, environmental protection and enhancement, and sustainability. Countries fight wars over access to energy; we must avoid this scenario. Much of the U.S. trade deficit is the result of imported petroleum; this must change. Global warming or global climate change is attributed to the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion; this effect can be reduced. The use of fossil fuels or nuclear power is an unsustainable approach to energy–solar, wind, hydro, biomass and other renewable energy forms offer an opportunity to provide usable energy in a never ending cycle, a sustainable cycle.
What would you like everyone to think about in relation to energy resources?
Smeenk: Available and affordable energy is a cornerstone to the economic vitality of a country. Many in the world, especially the U.S., see cheap, accessible energy as a right instead of a privilege. Regardless of the predicted reserves of natural gas, petroleum, or coal, our consumptive lifestyle is leading to a possible world energy and environmental crisis. The best time to develop alternative, and preferably sustainable, sources of energy is before energy supply and demand, which today is almost exclusively based on fossil fuels, reaches the crisis point.
What do you think lies ahead for us in regard to energy use?
Smeenk: In my opinion, there will not be any abrupt change in energy use. Fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum will continue to dominate the energy landscape for the next decade. However, societal influences and government legislation will reward the use of alternative energy sources (or conversely penalize the use of fossil fuels) in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which is a greenhouse gas, and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Alternative sources of energy including solar, wind, biomass, hydro, and nuclear and others will increasingly be used to meet the U.S.’s energy demands. The probable scarce supply of petroleum and natural gas and the additional expense of using alternative sources, will continue the increase of the cost of energy. I hope that the U.S. will not develop an over-reliance on our abundant coal supply due to the environmental challenges of coal use.
How did your Dordt education and your Christian worldview shape what you are doing today?
Smeenk: My Dordt education provided a solid set of engineering skills along with an expanded, God-centered worldview. I was taught to look through and beyond society’s take on issues and process circumstances and events through a biblical perspective. I believe that God can use me, even in a small way, to positively impact how this world perceives and uses energy, hopefully in a way that is sustainable.