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USDA funds $10 million search for next-generation biofuels

Oct. 16, 2012, Philadelphia, PA - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack awarded Pennsylvania State University a five-year research grant valued at roughly $10 million to develop biomass supply chains for the production of liquid transportation and aviation biofuels in the Northeast. This is the sixth such award made through USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), aimed at developing regional, renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs, and decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil. In September 2011, the Secretary announced five major AFRI grants for the formation of five regional systems in the Pacific Northwest, the Northwest, Northern states, Southern states, and the Southeast. This announcement underscores USDA's support for public and private research in building the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry in every major American region.

"The creation of this biofuel system will significantly contribute to improving rural prosperity and job creation in the Northeast by funding effective public and private sector partnerships," Vilsack said. "Overall, the six regional systems supported by USDA and the Obama Administration represent an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by building the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry."

Vilsack also highlighted how USDA is working with federal partners like the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration to improve America's energy security and provide sustainable jobs in communities across the country. Currently, USDA, DOE and Navy are partnering with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation.

The grants announced by Vilsack came through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The NEWBio Consortium will focus on the non-food biomass sources of willow, miscanthus and switchgrass, which can be grown on former strip mines and marginal floodplains. Through an integrated research, education and Extension approach, the consortium will address the entire biofuel production spectrum, including crop genetic development, harvesting, storage and processing techniques and sustainable production systems. The biomass research will develop sustainable production practices to improve yield by 25 percent and reduce costs by 20 percent.

By partnering with industry, the research will enable private-sector partners to produce advanced ready-to-use liquid transportation and aviation biofuels. The team aims to provide business support to generate at least 100 supply contracts and support more than 50 new supply chain businesses to harvest, transport and preprocess biomass.

The project will also address education and outreach to students, citizens, landowners and policymakers to increase their understanding of biomass alternatives – including the social, economic and environmental impacts of sustainable bioenergy in the Northeast.

Dr. Thomas Richard at The Pennsylvania State University will lead the team of researchers and staff from the following organizations: Cornell University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, West Virginia University, University of Vermont, Drexel University, American Refining Group, Ernst Conservation Seeds, Case New Holland, Praxair, Inc., Idaho National Lab, Mascoma Biofuels, Primus Green Energy, Double A Willow, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Aloterra Energy, Oak Ridge National Lab and USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

AFRI's sustainable bioenergy challenge area targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products that contribute significantly to reducing dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are compatible with existing agricultural systems. All grants are awarded over a period of five years, with continued funding contingent on annual project success.

October 16, 2012  By USDA


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