USDA announces $21 million in bioenergy funding

By Erin Voegele | May 23, 2016

The USDA has announced the availability of $21 million in funding through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to support the development of regional systems in sustainable bioenergy and biobased products, as well as education and training for the next generation of scientists.

Established by the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, AFRI is a competitive, peer-reviewed grant program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences. Since its establishment, the program has led to innovations and discoveries in agriculture to find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of food systems, ensure food safety, combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain economic growth, and address water availability issues, among other achievements.

The current round of funding is offered through the ARFI Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts challenge area, which creates or sustains jobs by enhancing existing food and fiber production systems, boosts ecosystems by reducing greenhouse gases and improving water and habitat quality, and providing renewable energy, chemical, and product options.

"This announcement marks the Obama Administration's latest investment in the biobased economy, which pumps $369 billion into the U.S. economy each year and supports 4 million jobs in rural and small towns across the United States. Over the course of this Administration, America has more than doubled our renewable energy production, and today we import less than half our oil. We are saving money at the pump, bolstering national security by relying less on foreign oil, and combatting climate change with investments in technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide for cleaner air," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Today's investment into regional production systems and the development of our next generation of scientists will have a direct impact on local economies now and set us up for a brighter, more innovative future."

For the 2016 fiscal year, the challenge area is soliciting applications that focus on two specific priority areas. The first is Regional Bioenergy Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs), which support the production and delivery of regionally appropriate sustainable biomass feedstocks for the production of bioenergy and bioproducts. According to the USDA, although the focus of CAPs is on feedstocks, proposals must present feedstock development and production in the context of comprehensive regional sustainable supply chain systems. According to the request for applications (RFA), the USDA intends to make up to four CAPs awards under the current round of funding. Letters of intent are due July 14, with the full application deadline set for Sept. 22. The grants must not exceed $3 million per year, including indirect costs, for project periods up to 5 years, or $15 million total.

The second area is focused on preparing a new generation of students, faculty and a workforce for emerging opportunities in bioenergy, bioproducts and the bioeconomy. Applications are due July 14. Under this focus area, the USDA expects to make up to three awards, with the grants not exceeding $3 million total, including indirect costs for projects periods up to four years.

To date, the USDA said more than $237.2 million in research, education and extension grants have been awarded through AFRI’s Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Challenge Area. For example, Alaska Airlines will be able to use 1,000 gallons of biofuel produced by Washington State University’s Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance in a demonstration flight in the near future. In addition, University of California-Davis researchers were able to map the genome of the loblolly pine.

Additional information on the funding opportunity is available on the USDA NIFA website.