DOE, USDA award cellulosic feedstock grants

By Jerry W. Kram
Web exclusive posted August 1, 2008 at 10:57 a.m. CST

Ten grants totaling more than $10 million are being awarded to universities and research institutes in an effort to accelerate fundamental research in the development of cellulosic biofuels.

Raymond L. Orbach, Under Secretary for Science for the U.S. DOE and Gale Buchanan, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics for the USDA announced the awards on July 31.

"USDA is committed to fostering a sustainable domestic biofuels industry at home in rural America," Buchanan said. "These grants will broaden the sources of energy from many crops as well as improve the efficiency and options among renewable fuels."

The grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program begun in 2006 to accelerate fundamental research in biomass genomics and further the use of cellulosic plant material for bioenergy and biofuels. DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research will provide $8.8 million, while USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service will provide $2 million for the grants.

"Cellulosic biofuels offer one of the best near- to mid-term alternatives we have, on the energy production side, to reduce reliance and imported oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions, while continuing to meet the nation's transportation energy needs," Orbach said. "Developing cost-effective means of producing cellulosic biofuels on a national scale poses major scientific challenges – these grants will help in developing the type of transformational breakthroughs needed in basic science to make this happen."

Cellulosic biofuels are made from a wide variety of plant materials or non-food based feedstocks and energy crops. The projects, the institutions where the research will be carried out, and the amount of the grants are:

  • Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Ithaca, N.Y., $882,000 - Identification of genes that regulate phosphate acquisition and plant performance during arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis in Medicago truncatula and Brachypodium distachyon.

  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $1,500,000 - Identification of genes that control biomass production using rice.

  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $1,295,000 - Development of genomic and genetic tools for foxtail millet, and use of these tools in the improvement of biomass production for bioenergy crops.

  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $1,200,000 - Genomics of wood formation and cellulosic biomass traits in sunflower.

  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Maine, $1,200,000 - Systems level engineering of plant cell wall biosynthesis to improve biofuel feedstock quality.

  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $540,000 - Computational resources for biofuel feedstock species.

  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn., $587,191 - Identifying genes controlling ferulate cross-link formation in grass cell walls.

  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $1,200,000 - Translational genomics for the improvement of switchgrass.

  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $1,200,000 - A universal genome array and transcriptome atlas for Brachypodium distachyon.

  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $1,200,000 - Epigenomics of development in Populus.

For more information on the individual projects and the DOE-USDA biomass genomics research program, visit: