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Researchers to lead Tennessee biofuels program

The University of Tennessee has appointed two researchers to direct the $48.9 million Tennessee Biofuels Initiative.

Kelly Tiller, the agricultural economist who helped to author the initiative's business model, and Tim Rials, a polymer chemist who directs the Tennessee Forest Products Center, will each oversee part of the biofuels initiative and associated Institute of Agriculture bioenergy efforts.

Tiller will serve as director of external operations. Her duties will include general oversight of the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, managing development of the pilot biorefinery, and managing relationships with external partners interested in collaborative projects associated with the plant or working to develop a bioenergy industry in the state.

Rials will serve as director of research for bioenergy initiatives. He will oversee activities associated with refining the biomass conversion process and the development of co-products — valuable commercial products expected to result as part of the biomass-to-ethanol conversion process. Rials will also continue in his role as director of the federally funded Sun Grant Southeastern Regional Center, which coordinates some $7 million in federal research allocations for alternative energy research throughout the region.

Both Tiller and Rials will retain their faculty appointments through the UT Agricultural Experiment Station.

“The immensity of this undertaking has prompted us to take this action,” said Joseph DiPietro, UT Vice President for Agriculture. “Tiller and Rials are absolutely the two most qualified individuals to oversee this project and to ensure its success.

“We are extremely grateful for the confidence that our elected officials have shown us by supporting the Tennessee Biofuels Initiative. Their forethought will allow the Institute of Agriculture to help the state become a hub for bioenergy research and development,” said DiPietro.

The Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, the ORNL-UT led bioenergy center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, and other research grants represent a combined investment approaching $200 million.

“This level of investment in agricultural research will benefit rural economies and consumers all over the state and region,” he said.

Klindt said the ultimate goal of the bioenergy research is an affordable alternative fuel for consumers in the form of cellulosic ethanol as well as a sustainable bioeconomy.

For more on biofuels in Tennessee, visit

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