NC funds 6 cellulosic biofuel, bioenergy research projects

By Holly Jessen | July 09, 2014

North Carolina recently awarded six projects a total of $500,000 through the state’s Bioenergy Research Initiative, which is a program of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Special consideration is given to projects that focus on field and forest crop production for cellulosic ethanol feedstocks.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to explore bioenergy potential through these grants for North Carolina's agricultural and forestry industries,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, in a press release.

Sam Brake, manager of the North Carolina Bioenergy Research Initiative, told Biomass Magazine some of the six projects and others were being conducted as part of the North Carolina Biofuels Center, which was closed last summer. Now, the state’s research station division is carrying on the work. Brake was previously director of farming at the biofuels center. “I grew some things I never heard of 5 years ago,” he said.

Of the six projects that were awarded funding, three were wood related. The state’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources received two of those grants. More than $81,000 was allocated for a project to evaluate the costs and benefits of types of storage systems for hardwoods and energy grasses that have the potential to be used as cellulosic ethanol feedstock alternatives to “just-in-time delivery.” Another nearly $90,000 was put aside for a project to evaluate optimum fertilization and planting densities of fast-growing tree plantations or short-rotation woody crops. The third grant of $35,000 was awarded to the Institute of Forest Biotechnology to study two biotech modified poplar tree field trials.

Two of the projects focused in on grasses. Nearly $97,000 went to a project of the state’s Department of Crop Science, which is evaluating herbicides for weed management of arundo donax (or giant reed)and miscanthus plantings as well as how to eliminate these plantings, allowing for improved return on investment and rapid conversion of fields back to other uses.  More than $97,000 was allocated to the state’s Department of Horticultural Science to further study yields of 24 genotypes of giant reed, determining the best type for high biomass yields for production in North Carolina. Although it was previously thought arundo donax was a plant without genetic diversity, due to the fact that it is a naturally sterile organism that propagates asexually, researchers have found the plant has adapted for growth in different areas, Brake said.

Nearly $100,000, the highest award, goes to the state’s Department of Soil Science, which will study the nutrient requirements of bioenergy crops grown in a swine effluent spray field.

The North Carolina Bioenergy Research Initiative got its start in 2013, when the state general assembly approved grant funding for projects to stimulated energy production from agricultural and forest products grown in the state. The goal is to support research and development of feedstocks for bioenergy production, agribusiness development and cooperative research for biofuels production. The initiative is part of the state’s research stations division and is based in Oxford, North Carolina. “By leveraging current technology, developing more applied technology, and identifying existing gaps, the state can help best position feedstock producers and the bioenergy industry moving forward,” the website said.