Nearly $6 million was awarded in grants nationwide to research projects aimed at accelerating development of alternative fuels. The grants were a joint venture by USDA and the Department of Energy.
Significance to Hoosiers is that the top grant recipient in terms of dollars is Purdue University. Researchers there snagged a grant for $1.4 million, a sizable sum to be awarded for any one project at one time. Other grants went to the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma, Texas A & M University, USDA-Ag Research at the University of Wisconsin; the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Brookhaven National laboratory in New York, North Carolina State University, Kansas State University and the University of Georgia.
The grants centered around genomics projects, a term foreign to ag circles just a few years ago. Basically, it amounts to basic research in learning how plants and animals, but in this case plants, are put together. Once you understand their genetic make-up, you can begin to determine how to possibly alter that make-up for your own use.
In this case USDA and DOE officials hope that use is for the public good. The idea behind each grant awarded is to learn more about how to turn woody plant tissue into biofuels.
Government officials foresee the day when ethanol and other biofuels will be made from biomass, much of which is now considered as low-quality material. These projects funded this round focus on how to turn poplar, alfalfa, sorghum, wheat and other grasses into bioenergy sources.
You read right - poplar, as in poplar trees. One person quips that "it's still a renewable crop, the season is just a little longer."
The key is figuring out how to break down lignocellulosic materials in these feedstocks so that they can be used to generate biofuels. That's where much of the basic research work funded by the large grant to Purdue will focus.
So are these fuels a threat to ethanol from corn and biodisel from soybeans? Likely not. Belinda Puetz of the Indiana Soybean Board and Corn Growers Association says that even if all the trucks in the U.S. switched just to B2 soy biodiesel, and all of the country's soybeans were devoted to that use, soybean farmers could still fill only a fraction of our country's overall energy needs. Translated, there is plenty of room for competition in the alternative fuels arena.