Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have announced research awards under a joint DOE-USDA program aimed at improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bio-energy production. The $8.9 million dollars in grants will focus on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials - nonfood plant fiber - for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops.
According to a news release, the two departments noted that since such crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on somewhat poorer quality land than food crops, they will be a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food. The release continued that combining DOE's leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA's long experience in crop improvement will help accelerate development of such specialized crops and improve their effectiveness as feedstocks for biofuels production.
New projects to be funded this year aim at enhancing productivity, yield, nutrient and water utilization, and sustainability of plant feedstocks. Research focuses on better understanding of basic plant processes that control cell wall composition, plant architecture, cell size and division, wood formation, nutrient uptake, carbon allocation and on the impact of temperature and water availability.