Ten projects aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to receive funding — in an effort to diversify the nation’s energy portfolio and speed development of new clean energy technologies designed to decrease dependence on foreign oil. The projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Virginia.
The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing non-food plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks.
Biomass feedstocks are fast-growing trees, shrubs, and grasses that are bred for the specific purpose of producing energy (electricity or liquid fuels) from all or part of the resulting plant. Dedicated feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices, and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.
Providing financial support for up to 3 years, DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.6 million in initial funding for eight projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will award $2 million to the remaining two projects.
The projects are expected to build upon gains in genetic and genomic resources for bioenergy and biofuels by accelerating the breeding of optimized dedicated bioenergy feedstocks. They hope to do this through a better understanding of complex interactions between bioenergy feedstock plants and their environment, allowing the development of new regionally-adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars with maximal biomass or seed oil yield and traits leading to more sustainable production systems — such as minimal water usage and nutrient input requirements.