Sun Grant Initiative aids biomass research

By Susanne Retka Schill
The Sun Grant Initiative is currently funding $6.6 million in biomass research projects nationwide through its five regional centers.

The program, which receives its funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation, was enacted in 2005 to work with renewable energy, biobased and nonfood industries to meet the nation's energy needs and revitalize rural communities. The five Sun Grant centers-Cornell University, Oklahoma State University, Oregon State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville-have each developed a competitive grant procedure to award funding to a wide array of projects. A sampling of grants awarded in 2007 illustrates the promising developments in biomass research through the universities' research, education and extension programs.

For example, researchers at the University of Idaho will receive $254,000 over two years to study the production of biological thermoplastics and natural fiber-plastic composites using feedlot wastes and wastewater. The University of Minnesota will receive $480,000 over four years to evaluate nitrogen-fixing Alnus (alders) and Salix species (willow) in comparison with the woody biomass crops poplar and aspen. South Dakota State University will receive $1 million over four years to work on single-step, high-solid bioconversion processes, as well as continued work on prairie cordgrass as a biomass feedstock. In the south-central region, Texas A&M is teaming up with Louisiana State University in the development of a skid-mounted gasification unit for on-site heat, fuel and power. The Texas school is also teaming up with the University of Arkansas to evaluate modules for packaging and transporting biomass crops.

Several regions were also awarded smaller, shorter-term seed grants for new projects. Some of those include:
› Optimization work on a new downdraft gasification system for low-bulk-density biomass at Oklahoma State University
› Woody biomass pretreatment using microemulsion penetration at North Carolina State University
› Biological energy production from biomass by termites at Mississippi State University
› Evaluation of hazelnuts for oleochemicals and biodiesel at the State University of New Jersey
› Cofiring animal waste at Texas A&M

Other projects around the nation continue work in biomass conversion processes, switchgrass, poplar and corn stover, among others. Further details on the 2007 grant awards can be found at