Penn State To Lead $10-million Northeast Biofuel Development Team

USDA grant to this 20-partner Northeast biofuel project aims to build a field-to-fuel biomass-to-biofuel supply chain.

Published on: Oct 17, 2012

Yesterday, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a five-year research grant valued at close to $10 million to develop a Northeast biofuel supply chain from field to fuel tank. "Creation of this biofuel system will significantly contribute to improving rural prosperity and job creation in the Northeast by funding effective public and private sector partnerships," noted Vilsack.

The 20-partner Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium will be led by Penn State University.

The NEWBio Consortium aims to speed development of shrub willow, miscanthus and switchgrass that can be grown on former strip mines and marginal farmland and abandoned lands.

NEXT-GEN FUEL CROP: Miscanthus and other promising, fast-growing biomass crops may be headed for your farm, suggests Marvin Hall, Penn State Extension forage agronomist. Research to develop higher-yielding biomass crops is already underway in Ohio and the Northeast.
NEXT-GEN FUEL CROP: Miscanthus and other promising, fast-growing biomass crops may be headed for your farm, suggests Marvin Hall, Penn State Extension forage agronomist. Research to develop higher-yielding biomass crops is already underway in Ohio and the Northeast.

Its goal is to develop perennial feedstock production and supply chains to commercially produce liquid transportation and aviation biofuels, explains project leader Tom Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

The project will target sustainable production practices to improve yield by 25% and reduce costs by 20%. That's very do-able, and is already being done. Shrub willow breeding research by Cornell University's Larry Smart has already achieved 40% gains in dry tons per acre per year since the mid-1990s. Click here for more details

"The Northeast has substantial demand for transportation fuels," points out Richard. "It also has more than 3 million acres of marginal, degraded and abandoned land that could become productive, profitable sources of biomass with improved management."

Consortium partners include Cornell University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, West Virginia University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Drexel University, University of Vermont, the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Eastern Regional Research Center and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory.

Key industrial collaborators are Aloterra Energy, American Refining Group, Case New Holland, Double A Willow, Ernst Conservation Seeds, Mascoma, Praxair, Primus Green Energy and Terra Green Energy.

Here's the plan
The team aims to provide business support to generate at least 100 supply contracts and more than 50 new supply chain businesses to harvest, transport and preprocess biomass.

NEWBio will center on four large demonstration projects, each with biomass production and supply chains operating at commercial scales of thousands of acres. The projects will be geared to produce from 500 to 1,200 tons per day of lignocellulosic biomass suitable for manufacturing advanced transportation fuels.

"Each demonstration project will be located in a specific community, with industrial customers," says Richard. "These areas have unique agronomic and socioeconomic conditions that will allow analysis of multiple feedstock business models, ranging from corporate-owned and leased plantations to contract growing to commodity marketing.Commercial collaborators are committed to feedstock production, logistics, preprocessing and conversion.