As part of the Obama Administration's all-of-the-above strategy to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce America's reliance on imported oil and create lasting opportunities for American agriculture, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy announced a $42.5 million investment in projects that will drive more efficient biofuels production and feedstock improvements.
Through the joint Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), USDA and the Energy Department are working to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products.
Included in the grants awarded is a $7 million grant for a project at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"This project will utilize dairy manure as a source of fiber and fertilizer," explains Sunny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture for the USDA. Fiber will be converted to ethanol. Manure used for fertilizer and oil from the crops will be converted to biodiesel used in farm equipment. The project goal is to develop closed-loop systems with new product streams that benefit the environment.
"Normally you take the manure, turn it into methane and use it for electricity," Ramaswamy says. "This way you may be able to use it as ethanol. The first step is to make it into ethanol and blend it with gasoline so farmers can drive their pickup truck or family car, thus creating a closed loop where farmers are creating their own fuel."
UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) is already working on this project.
"The grant will allow them to do this on a larger scale,' Ramaswamy says. "This allows them (UW-Madison) to figure out all the different steps and scale it up."
Ramaswamy says the research is multi-discipline focused.
"CALS is involved in this because it includes dairy scientists, agronomists and chemical engineers."
According to Ramaswamy, this project and four others will help to diversify the nation's energy portfolio and replace some of the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles.
Other cost-shared projects receiving grants include:
*Quad County Corn Cooperative ($4.25 million – Galva, Iowa). This project will retrofit an existing corn starch ethanol plant to add value to its byproducts, which will be marketed to the non-ruminant feed markets and to the biodiesel industry.
*Agricultural Research Service's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research ($7 million - Peoria, Ill.) This project will optimize rapeseed/canola, mustard and camelina oilseed crops for oil quality and yield using recombinant inbred lines.
*Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. ($6.85 million - Findlay, Ohio). Guayule is a hardwood perennial natural rubber-producing shrub grown in the semi-arid southwestern United States. This project will optimize production and quality of guayule rubber using genomic sequencing and development of molecular markers. The extracted rubber will be used in tire formulations, and the remaining plant residue will be evaluated for use in biopower and for conversion to jet fuel precursors.
*University of Hawaii ($6 million - Manoa, Hawaii). This project will optimize the production of grasses in Hawaii, including napier grass, energycane, sugarcane and sweet sorghum. Harvest and preprocessing will be optimized to be compatible with the biochemical conversion to jet fuel and diesel.
Vilsack weighs in
"If we want to develop affordable alternatives for oil and gasoline that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we need investments like these projects to spur innovation in bioenergy," said Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. "By producing energy more efficiently and sustainably, we can boost rural economies and help U.S. farmers and foresters prosper."
"As part of President Obama's all-of-the-above strategy to deploy every available source of American energy, we continue to strive for more efficient, cost-competitive technologies to produce U.S. energy," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "These investments are helping to accelerate innovation across America's growing biofuels industry, which will help to reduce our dependence on imported oil and support job creation across rural America."
Biomass research investments
The Energy Department and USDA also announced $11.5 million for research projects aimed at applying biomass genomics to improve promising biofuel feedstocks and drive more efficient, cost-effective energy production. These projects will use genetic mapping to advance sustainable biofuels production by analyzing and seeking to maximize genetic traits like feedstock durability, how tolerant feedstocks are to various environmental stresses, and the potential for feedstocks to be used in energy production.
The projects selected include:
*Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation ($1.5 million - Ardmore, Okla.). This project will use genetic mapping to analyze the natural genetic variation in switchgrass to improve biomass yield and quality.
*Iowa State University ($1.4 million - Ames, Iowa). Research will explore the genetic architecture of sorghum biomass yield component traits identified using field-based analysis of the feedstock's physical and genetic traits.
Since 2006, the Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program has invested nearly $70 million helping to identify key genes affecting biomass yield and quality in feedstocks and to accelerate breeding efforts to improve bioenergy-relevant traits.