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USDA and Energy Department set biomass research grants

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says USDA and the Department of Energy will invest up to $18.4 million in 21 biomass research and development and demonstration projects over the next three years.

These projects are designed to address barriers to making production of biomass for biofuel production more efficient and cost-effective to help meet the renewable fuel goals set by Congress in the energy bill it passed in December.

“These grants help fund the innovative research needed to develop technologies and systems that lead to the production of bio-based products and biofuels,” Schafer said. “Funding new technologies will help make biofuels competitive with fossil fuels in the commercial market, putting America on the path of reducing its dependence on foreign oil.”

The projects could help further the administration's Advanced Energy Initiative, which aims to change the way the nation powers its cars, homes and businesses by increasing energy efficiency and diversifying energy sources in an effort to increase energy, economic and national security.

Funding for the projects will be provided through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a joint USDA-DOE effort established in 2000 to develop the next generation of clean, bio-based technologies.

Grant recipients are required to raise a minimum of 20 percent matching funds for R&D projects, and 50 percent matching funds for demonstration projects. Of the $18.5 million announced, USDA will provide up to $13.23 million, and DOE will provide up to $5.22 million (fiscal 2007-2009).

Grants are subject to negotiation and will begin immediately, and funding is subject to appropriations from Congress.

Schafer made the announcement while delivering remarks at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference 2008. WIREC 2008, held in Washington this week, aims to garner broad, high-level international support for developing and deploying clean, renewable energy technologies.

The recipients of the grants announced today (March 4) include:

  • University of Florida, up to $866,576, to address genetic engineering of sugarcane for increased fermentable sugar yield from hemicellulosic biomass in Florida.
  • Ceres, Inc. (California), up to $839,909, to identify and characterize plant genes involved in biosynthesis and deposition of cellulose and hemicellulose in plant cell walls, with a focus on switchgrass throughout the United States.
  • Ceres, Inc., up to $883,290, to evaluate herbacious and woody crops for use in thermochemical processing, specifically examining willow and switchgrass species grown throughout a wide range of geographies in the United States.
  • North Carolina State University, up to $999,889, to develop advanced technology for low-cost ethanol from engineered cellulosic biomass.
  • University of Kentucky Research Foundation, up to $999,964, to develop advanced ceramic materials for the separation and recovery of high-value pentose derivatives from cellulosic biomass using molecular imprinting.
  • Kansas State University, up to $690,000, to demonstrate pelletizing forage crops and perennial grasses in the field to increase cellulosic ethanol production.

Under demonstration projects:

  • Texas Engineering Experimental Station, up to $600,000, to provide a demonstration of commercial feasibility of anaerobic fermentation of biomass for the production of carboxylate salts and their conversion to keytones.
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