U.S.-India collaboration awarded funding for energy crop work

By Luke Geiver | August 15, 2012

A U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center grant will enable University of Missouri agroforestry researchers to put potential marginal land energy crops through a rigorous five-year testing program. As part of the $125 million awarded from the U.S. DOE to the joint energy collaboration, the university will be allotted $4.5 million to study varieties of switchgrass, sorghum and various tree species. The aim of the research is to establish energy crops that will not only grow in marginal lands, but specifically in areas along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

According to Shibu Jose, director of the Center for Agroforestry at UM, there are roughly 100 million acres along the river that are subject to flooding, erosion or have poor soil. Jose said that if 10 percent of those acres were converted to energy crop production areas, roughly 8 billion gallons of advanced biofuels could be produced annually.

At the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in New Franklin, Mo., the team will test 15 switchgrass cultivars and 15 sorghum cultivars at one of the few flood tolerance labs in the world. According to the university, the plants will be tested in representative soil samples from geographical regions ranging from Nebraska to Louisiana. Some plants will be subjected to flooding conditions while others will only be placed in normal rainwater conditions. A 2009 test that used similar testing parameters showed that certain cottonwood tree varieties can withstand Missouri river flooding and are suitable for lignocellulosic energy production. According to studies by the university some cottonwood species can grow to 12 feet and mature in only four years.

The University of Florida will test the energy crops grown by the University of Missouri in biofuel production and Virginia Tech University will assess the environmental sustainability of the energy crops produced. Show-Me Energy of Centerview, Mo., will study the conversion possibilities of each crop into a pelletized form.

The Indian Institute of Chemical Technology-Hyderabad will lead a team that includes expertise in crop research, semi-arid tropics regions, sorghum research, economics and others.