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USDA Announces Investments in Bioenergy Research and Development

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $25 million to fund research and development of next-generation renewable energy and high-value biobased products from a variety of biomass sources.

"USDA's continuing investments in research and development are proving a critical piece of President Obama's strategy to spur innovation of clean bioenergy right here at home and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Vilsack. "The advances made through this research will help to boost local economies throughout rural America, creating and sustaining good-paying jobs, while moving our nation toward a clean energy economy."

The projects announced today are funded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, established in the 2008 Farm Bill. The funded research will help increase the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products to diversify the nation's energy resources. The Department of Energy will make additional awards through this program. Each award was made through a competitive selection process.

Grant recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 20 percent matching funds for research and development projects and 50 percent matching funds for demonstration projects. Awardees must pursue projects that integrate science and engineering research in three areas: feedstocks development, biofuels and biobased products development, and biofuels and bioproducts development analysis.

The following projects have been selected for awards:

•    Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., $5,078,932. The goal of this project is to make the oilseed crop camelina a cost-effective biofuel and bioproduct feedstock. Camelina production will be incorporated into a cropping system with wheat-based crop rotations in Montana and Wyoming. Once harvested and processed, camelina oil and meal will be chemically converted to a variety of adhesives, coatings and composites. A life cycle analysis from agronomic production to end products will assess the feasibility of a nonfood oilseed as a sustainable resource with minimal negative impact on food crop systems or the environment and will provide needed information for decision-making on camelina production as a replacement for fallow in wheat-based systems.
•    Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio, $6,510,183. This project will result in an anaerobic digestion system for the production of liquid transportation fuels and electricity from animal manure, agricultural residues, woody biomass and energy crops. The novel anaerobic digestion system will be integrated with partial oxidation and Fisher-Tropsch technologies to produce gasoline. A life cycle analysis will incorporate thermodynamic principles to assess the resource use, energy/fuel production and the environmental impact of the conversion technologies.
•    Ceramatec, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, $6,599,304. This project will convert lignocellulosic biomass to infrastructure-compatible renewable diesel, biolubricants, animal feed and biopower. New hybrids of energy sorghum will be developed, and other biomass resources include switchgrass and forestry residues. The biomass will be converted to hydrocarbons (molecules that are just like petroleum based hydrocarbons but derived from biomass) using innovative pretreatment, fermentation and electrochemical technologies. These hydrocarbons will be finished into premium synthetic bio-lubricants and biofuels via commercial petroleum refinery processes. A life cycle analysis will include energy efficiency impacts and assessment of impacts on rural development.
•    USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pa., $6,865,942. ARS scientists will develop an on-the-farm distributed technology for converting forest residues, horse manure, switchgrass and other perennial grasses into biofuels and high-value specialty chemicals. The process will be implemented at on-the-farm scale using a patent-pending unit that will mimic the petroleum industry's catalytic cracking process. The project integrates a life cycle assessment from collection and handling of the biomass to end products and will use thermodynamic principles to assess its sustainability.

USDA is working to develop the biofuels industry in every region of the country. In addition to today's awards, USDA has previously announced major support for public and private research in renewable energy and products in every major American region, aimed at developing renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs, and decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil. By partnering with industry, the research is enabling private-sector partners to produce advanced ready-to-use liquid transportation and aviation biofuels.

In addition, USDA is helping companies build biorefineries—including the first ever commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities—and supporting farmers, ranchers, and businesses taking risks to pursue new opportunities in biofuels. More than 130 biodiesel and ethanol projects funded by USDA are currently producing almost 3.7 billion gallons of biodiesel and ethanol annually, enough fuel—in equivalence to gasoline—to keep five million vehicles on the road every year.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.

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