USDA, DOE funding supports bioenergy feedstock development

By Erin Voegele | July 17, 2014

The USDA and U.S. Department of Energy have awarded $12.6 million in funding to 10 projects with the goal of accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower and biobased products. The research grants were awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 and is focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics. The program aims to harness nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels and chemicals.

"Innovative research is a critical link to stimulating rural economies and creating jobs across America," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These awards are part of the Obama Administration's 'all of the above' energy policy. These projects will not only support our efforts to provide a sustainable and domestic energy source for the nation, but also improve the lives of rural residents."

"Biofuels and bio-based products offer the potential of homegrown American resources that can reduce our dependence on imported oil and also cut carbon emissions," said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. "This advanced research is helping us to lay the groundwork for biomass as an important part of the low-carbon future."

According to the USDA, projects funded this year will build upon gains in genetic and genomic resources for bioenergy and biofuels. They projects will accelerate the breeding of optimized dedicated bioenergy feedstocks through a better understanding of complex interactions between bioenergy feedstock plants and their environment, allowing the development of new regionally adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars with maximal biomass or seed oil yield and traits leading to more sustainable production systems, such as minimal water usage and nutrient input requirements. Project awards include:

University of Illinois-Champaign: $1.34 million for a project titled “Coordinated Genetic Improvement of Bioenergy Sorghum for Compositional and Agronomic Traits”

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: $1.43 million for a project titled “Abiotic Stress Networks Converging on FT2 to Control Growth in Populus”

Michigan State University, East Lansing: $1 million for a project titled “Exploiting Natural Discovery to Identify Alleles and Mechanisms of Cold Adaptation in Swichgrass”

University of California, Davis: $1.27 million for a project titled “A Novel Poplar Biomass Germplasm Resource for Functional Genomics and Breeding”

Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research: $864,400 for a project titled “Genetic Dissection of AM Symbiosis to Improve the Sustainability of Feedstock Production”

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis: $1 million for a project tilted “Advancing Field Pennycress as a New Oilseed Biodiesel”

Colorado State University, Fort Collins: $1.49 million for a project tilted “Biofuels in the Arid West: Germplasm Development for Sustainable Production of Camelina Oilseed “

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center: $1.5 million for a project tilted “The Brachypodium ENCODE Project—From Sequence to Function: Predicting Physiological Responses in Grasses to Facilitate Engineering of Biofuel Crops”

Texas A&M University, College Station: $1.23 million for a project titled “Genomics of Energy Sorghum's Water Use Efficiency / Drought Resilience”

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: $1.5 million for a project titled “Quantifying Phenotypic and Genetic Diversity of Miscanthus sacchariflorus to Facilitate Knowledge of Directed Improvement of M.×giganteus (M. sinensis × M. sacchariflorus) and Sugarcane”

Additional information on the 10 projects is available here.