US commits to second-generation feedstocks research

The US Department of Energy (DoE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are together planning to award $6.3 million (€4.4 million) in research grants towards the development of second-generation feedstocks for conversion to bioethanol.

The joint programme will award seven grants, initially for a maximum of three years. Energy secretary Steven Chu recently highlighted the benefits of growing perennial grasses for conversion to transportation fuel. If the cellulose could be converted to ethanol, production of ethanol per acre of land could be 15 times that produced from corn by a first-generation process.

‘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.’

The seven recipients have already been chosen and include research into the use of switchgrass, alfalfa, poplar and sweet sorghum as feedstocks.

The DoE also recently announced funding of up to $85 million over a three-year period to develop algae-based biofuels and advanced infrastructure-compatible biofuels.

Writing in the current issue of the journal Science, scientists from the University of Minnesota, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Techology and the University of California, Berkeley conclude that we cannot afford to miss out on the potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions and other benefits offered by second-generation biofuels that do not compete with food crops.

'Biofuels "done right" have a bright future in solving our energy and environmental challenges,' says Jonathan Foley of the University of Minnesota.

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