USDA, DOE issue grants to aid in biomass R&D

By Bryan Sims | May 09, 2011

The USDA and the U.S. DOE have jointly awarded grant funding worth a total of $47 million to eight research and development projects aimed to help spur the production of advanced biofuels, bioenergy and value-added biobased products from a variety of biomass sources. The projects are funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, an interagency collaborative co-chaired by the USDA and the DOE, and provided through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the DOE’s Biomass Program.

“Permanently reducing our dependence on foreign oil and getting a handle on out-of-control gas prices will require our brightest scientists, our smartest companies and strategic investments in research,” said USDA Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Advances made through this research will help boost rural economies by developing and testing new processing facilities and profitable, energy-rich crops that U.S. farmers and foresters will grow.”

DOE Secretary Steven Chu echoed Vilsack’s sentiments, reinforcing President Barrack Obama’s bold national goal of reducing the country’s reliance on imported oil. “By developing and commercializing advanced biofuels, we will create new economic opportunities for rural communities, provide consumers with new options to fuel their vehicles and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The eight projects that were selected to receive funds include:

Cellana LLC, Kailua Kona, Hawaii, $5,521,173 – Cellana will work to develop a protein supplement from algae as a byproduct of algal biofuels production by demonstrating its nutritional and economic value in livestock feeds. The project will characterize types of algae, assess the nutritional values of algal proteins, assess the potential for algal proteins to replace soybean meal and develop algal protein supplements.

Domtar Paper Co. LLC, Fort Mill, S.C., $7 million – This three-year project will work to build a demonstration plant using two technologies to convert low-value byproducts and wastes from paper mills into higher-value sugar, oil and lignin products.

Exelus Inc., Livingston, N.J., $5,185,004 – Exelus intends to develop energy crops with improved tolerance to drought and salt stress to enhance yields on marginal lands. The project will also redesign a process to make hydrocarbon fuels using new catalysts and chemistry that avoids the high temperatures and large energy inputs required from traditional processes.

Metabolix Inc., Cambridge, Mass., $6,000,001 – Metabolix will enhance the yield of biobased products, biopower or fuels made from switchgrass. The project will use high temperature conversion to produce denser biomass and other products that can be further processed to produce fuels, such as butanol, chemicals such as propylene and other materials to improve the economic competitiveness of future biorefineries.

University of Florida, Gainsville, Fla., $5,430,439 – The focus of this project is to improve the production and sustainability of sweet sorghum as an energy crop. UF aims to identify genetic traits in sorghum associated with drought tolerance through genetic mapping and will select strains that produce high biomass yields that can be converted to fermentable sugars.

University of Kansas Center for Research, Lawrence, Kan., $5,635,858 – The purpose of this project is to demonstrate a novel, sustainable technology at a pilot scale that produces diverse products, including advanced fuels, industrial chemicals and chemical intermediates.

University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky., $6,932,786 – The purpose of this project is to improve the economics for biorefineries by using on-farm processing to convert biomass to a mixture of butanol, ethanol, acetone and organic acids where the product can then be easily transported to a biorefinery for further processing. The project will integrate input from experts in a variety of disciplines, including plant and soil scientists, horticulturists, chemical engineers and economists.

U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, Mont., $5,309,320 – This project will develop an integrated approach to investigate biomass feedstock production, logistics, conversion, distribution and end-use centered on using advanced conversion technologies at existing forest industry facilities.

Grant recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 20 percent of matching funds for research and development projects and 50 percent of matching funds for demonstration projects. Awardees are required to focus on projects that integrate science and engineering research in three areas: feedstock development, biofuels and biobased products development and biofuels development analysis.