Sustainability Doesn’t Come Cheap

USDA grants $36 million for research
By Kris Bevill | May 13, 2011

The USDA is providing $36 million through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture research initiative to 42 projects focused on advancing the production of biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products. Projects are spread throughout 25 states and primarily focus on feedstocks and products that can be cultivated and utilized within each specific region. Switchgrass and sugarcane, for example, will be the topics of research in California. Prairie grasses and perennial energy crops will be explored in Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota and Virginia. Michigan research will focus on woody biomass while researchers in Texas and Pennsylvania will conduct work on sorghum-focused projects. Other research projects will be conducted to develop life-cycle analysis methods for biofuels, to develop technology and equipment for use with biomass conversion processes, and to study potential pests affecting future bioenergy feedstocks.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the wide-ranging projects are consistent with the federal government’s plan to out-educate, out-innovate and out-build other nations also ramping up renewable energy efforts. “These projects will give us the scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create coproducts that will enhance the overall value of a biobased economy,” he says.

The NIFA research initiative was established as part of the 2008 Farm Bill and is focused on six areas: plant health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities. The average grant through this round was about $863,000, while three received $1 million each. Auburn University researchers in Auburn, Ala., will explore the sustainable production of hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals. South Dakota State University researchers will work on a long-term project to design a bioenergy feedstock production system. A Virginia Tech project will identify switchgrass rust resistance genes that can be incorporated into the plants to ensure large-scale and sustainable production of the crop.  —Kris Bevill