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Bioeconomy, Bioenergy, Bioproducts

Strengthening Bio-Based Systems to Support Our Nation’s Energy Independence

NIFA supports the expansion of a robust bioeconomy that enhances communities, job growth, and agricultural systems and contributes to U.S. competitiveness.

Photo of biomass pellets close up by Artisteer, courtesy Getty Images.
Photo of biomass pellets close up by Artisteer, courtesy Getty Images.

Impacts

Southwest is Perfect Place to Grow Bioeconomy Feedstocks - Researchers at New Mexico State University have joined the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions project led by the University of Arizona. The team is developing sustainable bioeconomy feedstocks for arid regions, guayule and guar, plants that grow well in the region. Farmers seeking alternative crops to maintain or improve farm profits may grow these crops for use in high-value products such as rubber, resin, and polysaccharide. Demand for guar gum in the United States is up to $1 billion annually, and most of the guar gum is imported.

Finding a Starting Place for the Poplar Bioeconomy - Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest (AHB) is a collaborative poplar tree-based bioenergy project led by University of Washington, with support from University of California and Washington State University Extension. AHB found that the Lewis County, Washington, region could be ideal for a poplar bioproducts industry. AHB plans to grow poplar for biomass production, a process that will create economic opportunities, reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, decrease foreign oil dependence, and improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Growers Sow the Seeds of New Biofuel Crop - Auburn University's Alabama Cooperative Extension System is helping farmers incorporate carinata into their crop rotations as a biofuel feedstock while leveraging its meal value for livestock feed and providing an alternative rotation crop solution for winter wheat. Carinata is more drought and cold tolerant than canola. In addition, growers can use carinata's high glucosinolic acid content, a natural deterrent for nematodes and other pathogens and insects, to help break pest cycles. Auburn's scientists are members of the University of Florida-led Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata research team.

Eye-in-the-Sky Surveys Beetle-Infested Trees - Georgia, the nation's leader in forestry, wood fuel, and pellet export, suffers greatly from insect damage caused by Southern Pine Beetles (SPB). Infestation effectively girdles a tree, causing its death. Researchers at Fort Valley State University monitor Loblolly pines with aerial drones to evaluate heat spikes and vegetation loss associated with SPB and conduct fuel analyses and pelletization quality from infected locations. Predictive models will serve to inform foresters if salvaging damaged pine trees is economical. Controlling SPB damage could save the state's forestry industry up to $7 million per year.

Incentivizing Feedstock Supply for the Bioeconomy - Researchers at Auburn University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are combining economic and ecological modeling to identify the economic barriers to biomass production and to explore the ecosystem service implications of biomass production. Their work will help decision makers understand the issues that face the cellulosic biofuel and bioproduct industry, biomass markets, and the economic and policy challenges that farmers face as viable suppliers.

New Pilot System Turns Scum into Biodiesel - Scum, a dark, muddy substance produced during wastewater treatment, presents a significant waste disposal challenge but also a potential energy source. Researchers at the Center for Biorefining at the University of Minnesota developed a pilot system at the St. Paul Wastewater Treatment Plant. Scientists found that they could convert 68 percent of the dried and filtered scum to biodiesel. This is equivalent to approximately 140,000 gallons of biodiesel and $500,000-$600,000 in profit per year using all the scum from the plant.

Developing Policies for Renewable Fuels - Researchers at University of California-Davis are analyzing federal and state energy programs and policies to better understand how subsidies affect ethanol investment, production, and entry and exit decisions. The team will use theoretical and empirical models to design an efficient and cost-effective renewable input mandate policy in order to encourage innovations in renewable fuels, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and U.S. energy independence.

Photo of Larry Smart holding a shrub willow by Robyn Wishna, courtesy of Cornell University.
Photo of Larry Smart holding a shrub willow by Robyn Wishna, courtesy of Cornell University.

Genomics-Assisted Breeding Improves Bioenergy Crops - Shrub willow is emerging as a superior bioenergy crop that thrives on marginal land, but shrub willow leaf rust threatens yield. Cornell University researchers are identifying gene networks that are activated during infection of the pervasive fungus and mapping genes that confer resistance. Project success would ensure that shrub willow continues its robust growth in the bioenergy industry.

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