U.S. DOE Secretary Steven Chu and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced July 22 the joint selection of up to $6.3 million in awards towards fundamental genomics-enabled research to improve the use of plant feedstocks for biofuel production

The seven grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will establish a scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuel. The DOE will provide $4 million in funding for four projects; the USDA will award $2.3 million to fund three projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.
Chu said. “These projects will help us unlock the true potential of advanced biofuels, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and create new jobs and a thriving biofuels industry in America.”
The investment in the seven chosen projects further the Obama Administration’s efforts to broaden the nation’s energy portfolio while decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, the agencies said. “Part of the solution to the energy problem will be home-grown energy crops,” Chu said. “These projects will help us unlock the true potential of advanced biofuels, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and create new jobs and a thriving biofuels industry in America.”

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During a recent presentation, Chu discussed the benefits of growing a perennial grass, such as miscanthus, which can be grown without irrigation or fertilizer, harvested in the fall and converted to ethanol. A plot of land outside of the University of Illinois can produce 15 times more ethanol than a similar of land growing corn, Chu said. “And the energy inputs are far less,” he added. “So we need to develop methods in order to use these grassy, woody substances and also agricultural wastes, wheat straw, rice straw, corn stover, and lumber wastes. Much of the agricultural waste is being thrown away, burned or being put in landfills – that can be converted to transportation fuel.”

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