USDA, DOE partnership to better bioenergy

Posted September 3, 2010, at 11:15 a.m.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced research awards under a joint DOE-USDA program aimed at improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production. The $8.9 million investment is part of the Obama Administration's broader effort to diversify the nation's energy portfolio and to accelerate the development of new energy technologies designed to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

"Cost-effective, sustainable biofuels are crucial to building a clean energy economy," said Secretary Chu. "By harnessing the power of science and technology, this joint effort between DOE and USDA will help accelerate research in the critical area of plant feedstocks, spurring the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

"Developing a domestic source of renewable energy will create jobs and wealth in rural America, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil, and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy," Secretary Vilsack said. "This scientific investment will lay the foundation for a source of fuel made from renewable sources."

The research grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials--i.e., nonfood plant fiber--for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops. Since such crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on somewhat poorer quality land than food crops, they will be a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food. Combining DOE's leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA's long experience in crop improvement will help accelerate development of such specialized crops and improve their effectiveness as feedstocks for biofuels production.

The research will make use of the most advanced technologies and techniques of today's genomics-based systems biology.

New projects to be funded this year aim at enhancing productivity, yield, nutrient and water utilization, and sustainability of plant feedstocks. Research focuses on better understanding of basic plant processes that control cell wall composition, plant architecture, cell size and division, wood formation, nutrient uptake, carbon allocation and on the impact of temperature and water availability.

DOE's Office of Science will provide $6.9 million in funding for seven projects, while USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

DOE-funded projects include:

• USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif., $949,348
• University of California, Berkeley, Calif., $793,413
• University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $868,794
• University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $1,340,000
• University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $1,165,900
• University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo, $1,106,656
• Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Danville, Va., $734,759

USDA-funded projects include:

• University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill, $1,000,000
• Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $1,000,000

For more information on the individual projects and the joint DOE-USDA Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program, visit: