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USDA awarding $136M to five major research projects focused in part on developing cellulosic drop-in aviation fuels

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced five major agricultural research projects aimed at developing regional, renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs, and decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Altogether, the five-year program will deliver more than $136 million in research and development grants to public and private sector partners in 22 states.

University partners from the states of Washington, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Iowa will lead the projects, which focus in part on developing aviation biofuels from tall grasses, crop residues and forest resources. Vilsack made the announcement with partners from private industry, research institutions, and the biofuels industry at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The grants announced by Vilsack in Seattle today came through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The projects will address needs across regional supply chains and will complement existing bioenergy efforts across government, academia, and the private sector. The five projects are:

  • A research team from the University of Washington received $40 million to focus on using sustainably grown woody energy crops to produce biogasoline and renewable aviation fuel. A consortium of eight organizations will work throughout the entire woody biomass supply chain to promote the financing, construction and operation of multiple biorefineries, while reaching out to landowners and land managers, as well as regional K-12 and college students and faculty, to foster workforce development opportunities across the supply chain.

  • A research team led by Washington State University received $40 million to convert closed timber mills into bioenergy development centers, improving the economic potential of rural communities affected by the downturn in timber production. The team will focus on feedstock development, sustainable forest production and establishing new methods to identify the most promising plant lines for biofuel conversion. The project aims to develop a regional source of renewable aviation fuel for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

  • A research team led by Iowa State University received $25 million to develop a regional biomass production system for advanced transportation fuels derived from native perennial grasses, such as switchgrass, big bluestem and Indian grass. The $25-million project will study the potential benefits of planting grasses with legumes to provide nutrients to land unsuitable for row crop production—adding value to marginal lands while reducing nitrogen runoff into waterways and increasing carbon sequestration. The team will also evaluate a co-product—bio-char—as a soil amendment to increase carbon sequestration.

  • A team of researchers led by Louisiana State University received $17.2 million to enable the regular production of biomass for economically viable conversion using existing refinery infrastructure. Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project will use energy cane and sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries.

  • A team of scientists led by the University of Tennessee received $15 million to develop sustainable feedstock production systems (switchgrass and woody biomass) that will produce low-cost, easily converted sugars for biochemical conversion to butanol, lignin byproducts and forest and mill residues, and dedicated energy crop feedstocks to produce diesel, heat and power.


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