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USDA Funding Forest, Grasses Biofuel Research

Switchgrass (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

Switchgrass (Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced $137 million in grants for research on biofuels from tall grasses, crop residues, and forest resources. The five-year awards will go to 22 universities and companies, through the lead institutions in Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Iowa.

The grants will fund research on feedstocks for aviation fuels, as well as other transportation and chemical end-products. The Department of Energy’s quadrennial technology review, released yesterday, highlighted aviation fuels as a priority target for its biofuel R&D portfolio.

The projects funded by NIFA include:

- University of Washington in Seattle receives $40 million to investigate woody energy crops to produce biogasoline and renewable aviation fuel. The grant will support a consortium of eight organizations throughout the entire woody biomass supply chain to promote the financing, construction and operation of multiple biorefineries, while reaching out to landowners and land managers, as well as schools and colleges, to foster workforce development opportunities.

- Washington State University in Pullman gets $40 million to convert closed timber mills into bioenergy development centers, to help rural communities affected by the downturn in timber production. The team will examine feedstock development, sustainable forest production, and establishing new methods to identify the most promising plant lines for biofuel conversion. The project aims to develop a regional source of renewable aviation fuel for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

- Iowa State University in Ames receives $25 million to develop a regional biomass production system for advanced transportation fuels derived from native perennial grasses, such as switchgrass, big bluestem, and Indian grass. The project will study the potential benefits of planting grasses with legumes to provide nutrients to land unsuitable for row crop production, which is intended to add value to marginal lands while reducing nitrogen runoff into waterways. The team will also evaluate bio-char as a byproduct of this process to increase carbon sequestration.

- Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge draws $17.2 million to research economically feasible production of biomass for conversion to biofuels using the existing refinery infrastructure. Through industrial partnerships, this project expects to use sugar cane and sorghum as feedstocks to help the state’s sugar and chemical industries.

- University of Tennessee in Knoxville receives $15 million to develop sustainable feedstock production from switchgrass and woody biomass to produce low-cost sugars for biochemical conversion to butanol. The project will also examine lignin byproducts and forest and mill residues as dedicated energy crop feedstocks to produce diesel, heat and power.

Read more: USDA, Energy Fund Research to Accelerate Biofuel Crops

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