Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday announced $36 million in research grants to spur production of bioenergy and biobased products that he said will lead to the development of sustainable regional systems and help create jobs.

“USDA and President Obama are committed to producing clean energy right here at home, to not only break our dependence on foreign oil, but also boost rural economies,” said Vilsack. “These projects will give us the scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create co-products that will enhance the overall value of a biobased economy.”

The long-term goal for the research projects, which reportedly were selected through a highly competitive process, is to implement sustainable systems that deliver liquid biofuels to help meet the Energy Independence and Security Act goal of 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. The funded projects focus on three areas: crop protection for sustainable feedstock production systems, enhanced value co-product development, and carbon sequestration and sustainable bioenergy production.

Projects were funded in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Highlights include:

  • Three projects in California that focus on determining the feasibility and sustainability of using poplar, switchgrass and sugarcane as biomass feedstocks.
  • Three projects in Michigan that focus on the environmental impact of biomass feedstock production, pest control in perennial grasses used as a feedstock and developing a cost-effective fermentation process to increase the sustainability of biodiesel production.
  • Four projects in South Dakota to design an ecologically optimized feedstock production system, develop activation technologies for producing activated carbon from biochar, research methods to produce high levels of commercially-available polysaccharide gums from prairie cordgrass and an equipment grant to purchase a chromatography system for research on advanced biofuels production and development of lignocellulosic biomass.

A full list of awardees can be found online at www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/sus_bioenergy_awards.html.