USDA, DOE invest $41 million in 13 biofuels, biomass projects

By Anna Simet | July 26, 2012

The USDA and the U.S. DOE announced they are putting $41 million toward 13 projects focused on developing sustainable biomass feedstock sources and increasing the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products.

Five of the projects are being funded through the joint Biomass Research and Development Initiative. They are cost-shared projects, and focus on replacing gasoline and diesel.  

The Quad County Corn Cooperative in Galva, Iowa, which received $4.2 million to retrofit an existing corn starch ethanol plant to enable it to market its byproducts to non-ruminant feed markets and the biodiesel industry.

The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., which received $7 million to optimize rapeseed/canola, mustard, and camelina oilseed crops for oil quality and yield using recombinant inbred lines, will use remote sensing and crop modeling to enhance production strategies, and the oils will be hydrotreated to produce diesel and jet fuel.

In Findlay, Ohio, the Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. will receive $6.85 million to optimize production of guayule, a hardwood perennial natural rubber-producing shrub grown in the semi-arid southwestern U.S. 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.

The University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., will use $7 million to utilize dairy manure as a source of fiber and fertilizer. Fiber will be converted to ethanol, manure used for crop fertilizer, and oil from the crops will be converted to biodiesel used in farm equipment, with an overall project goal to develop closed-loop systems with new product streams.

The University of Hawaii will use $6 million to optimize the production of grasses in Hawaii, including napier grass, energy cane, sugarcane and sweet sorghum. The goal is to optimize harvest and preprocessing so the grasses are compatible with biochemical conversion to jet fuel and diesel.

The remaining eight projects funded by the DOE and USDA will use a collective $11.5 million over the span of three years, for university research projects focused on plant feedstock genomics for bioenergy. In general, they will use genetic mapping to advance sustainable biofuels production by analyzing and seeking to maximize genetic traits like feedstock durability, tolerance to environmental stresses, and potential for energy production.

Some of the projects include research that will focus on discovering genes and alleles that affect wood biomass yield and quality in poplar trees; investigating drought tolerance and salt stress in switchgrass; identifying functional gene networks in poplar associated with stress tolerance and bioenergy related treats; investigation of how gene expression patterns in willow hybrids are related to yield potential and other traits important for biofuels production.

For a complete list of projects, visit the DOE Office of Science website.

In addition to the funding, the DOE announced it has released a new video titled Biofuels 101, which highlights how technological advances are increasing biofuel efficiency and reducing production costs.