UF awarded $5.4 million for biomass research and development (05/05/2011)

Aired on WUFT on May 5th, 2011

In an effort to reduce America’s reliance on imported oil, the University of Florida has been awarded $5.4 million from the USDA and Department of Energy for Biomass Research and Development Projects. According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the funding is designated to help develop sustainable, renewable biofuels in the U.S. and is considered part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan to address rising gas prices.

The University of Florida’s share of the funds will go towards research on ways to improve the production and sustainability of sweet sorghum as an energy crop. Seven other organizations and institutions have received part of the overall $47 million dollars available for the production of biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products from a variety of biomass sources. The projects are funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative and will help increase the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products to diversify the nation’s energy resources. Funding is provided through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and DOE’s Biomass Program. Each award was made through a competitive selection process.

Grant recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 20 percent of matching funds for research and development projects and 50 percent of 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 development analysis.

Here is the list of funded projects around the country:

• Cellana LLC, Kailua Kona, Hawaii, $5,521,173. Cellana will work to develop a protein supplement from algae as a byproduct of algal biofuels production, by demonstrating its nutritional and economic value in livestock feeds. The project will characterize types of algae, assess the nutritional values of algal proteins, assess the potential for algal proteins to replace soybean meal, and develop algal protein supplements.

• Domtar Paper Company, LLC, Fort Mill, SC, $7,000,000. This three-year project will work to build a demonstration plant using two technologies to convert low-value byproducts and wastes from paper mills into higher-value sugar, oil, and lignin products.

• Exelus Inc., Livingston, N.J., $5,185,004. Exelus will work to develop energy crops with improved tolerance to drought and salt stress to enhance yields on marginal lands. The project will also redesign a process to make hydrocarbon fuels using new catalysts and chemistry that avoids the high temperatures and large energy inputs required by current processes.

• Metabolix, Inc., Cambridge, Mass., $6,000,001. Metabolix will enhance the yield of bio-based products, biopower, or fuels made from switchgrass. The project will use high temperature conversion to produce denser biomass and other products that can be further processed to make fuels such as butanol, chemicals such as propylene and other materials to improve the economic competitiveness of future biorefineries.

• University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $5,430,439. The purpose of this project is to improve the production and sustainability of sweet sorghum as an energy crop. The University will identify genetic traits in sorghum associated with drought tolerance through genetic mapping and will select strains that produce high biomass yields and can be easily converted to fermentable sugars.

• University of Kansas Center for Research, Lawrence, Kan., $5,635,858. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate a novel, sustainable technology at a pilot scale that produces diverse products, including advanced fuels, industrial chemicals and chemical intermediates.

• University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky., $6,932,786. The purpose of this project is to improve the economics for biorefineries by using on-farm processing to convert biomass to a mixture of butanol, ethanol, acetone and organic acids. The product can then be easily transported to a biorefinery for further processing. The project will integrate input from experts in a variety of disciplines, including plant and soil scientists, horticulturists, chemical engineers, and economists.

• U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, Mont., $5,309,320. This project will develop an integrated approach to investigate biomass feedstock production, logistics, conversion, distribution and end use centered on using advanced conversion technologies at existing forest industry facilities.

More information is available at the Biomass Program website at www.eere.energy.gov/biomass