For Immediate Release — September 28, 2011
UT Center for Renewable Carbon Named as Lead Institution for $15 Million USDA Grant
Center to coordinate woody biomass production and utilization studies
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Center for Renewable Carbon, a program of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, has been named by the USDA as a recipient of one of five coordinated agricultural research projects to support the development of sustainable regional bioenergy production systems.
The $15 million award, made through a highly competitive process, creates the Southeast Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems (IBSS). Dr. Tim Rials, director of the CRC, will coordinate the efforts of a team of scientists from UT and several collaborating institutions throughout the Southeast.
“This award is a perfect example of why the Center for Renewable Carbon was created,” said University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro. “It pulls together a number of people, internal and external to the University, to collaborate on multiple, important goals toward the objective of commercializing cellulosic renewable biofuels. Having this kind of grant will allow us further progress toward achieving that objective, sooner rather than later.”
The team will develop sustainable feedstock production systems for dedicated energy crops, specifically switchgrass and woody biomass. The crops will provide an affordable and reliable supply of biomass with characteristics optimal for conversion to advanced “drop in” biofuels. The IBSS Partnership will also incorporate innovative outreach methods to increase public awareness of key aspects of bioenergy, including information generated from new environmental measures designed to equip landowners and community interest groups with metrics for effective decision-making regarding the new biofuels industry.
In addition to Rials, the scientists and institutions forming the core of the IBSS Partnership include Dr. Steve Kelley, of the Department of Forest Biomaterials at North Carolina State University; Dr. Steve Taylor, of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and the Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts, Auburn University; Dr. Maud Hinchee of ArborGen, Inc. in Summerville, South Carolina; Dr. Steve Bobzin, Ceres, Inc.; and Dr. Bill Hubbard with the University of Georgia.
The Center for Bioenergy Sustainability and the BioEnergy Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are also key partners in the broader research and education program, along with scientists at Tuskegee University, Alabama A&M University, the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University.
“The 48-member team brings extensive experience in biomass production and conversion science, a long history of education and outreach, and a proven track record of advancing the region’s biofuels industry,” said Rials.
UT will receive a total of $5 million over the course of five years for its contributions to the overall effort.
Dr. Rials contends that the Southeast IBBS partnership is an ideal candidate for the award. “The country needs to invest in the Southeast for the production of biofuels. In 2010 the USDA Biofuels Strategic Production report estimated that the Southeast will be the leading region for biofuels production because we have the most robust growing season in the US,” he said. “In addition, our region can produce a variety of biomass feedstocks including dedicated crops such as switchgrass and sorghum, along with dedicated woody crops and forest residues.”
The IBSS partnership has multiple goals. “We are ultimately focused on demonstrating the production of advanced biofuels from sustainable sources of lignocellulosic biomass,” Rials said. “We will focus on perennial switchgrass and annual sorghum; and short-rotation woody crops like eucalyptus and pine. Each dedicated crop has inherent performance and cost advantages for specific conversion technologies, so one of our goals will be to match the economic and environmental performance of each feedstock with a preferred conversion platform.”
Dr. Rials also says a goal of the partnership is to reduce the risks associated with growing, harvesting, storing, and converting biomass by developing genetically superior bioenergy crops, improved and environmentally sound production practices, and better harvesting and processing logistics that balance economic, social, and environmental sustainability factors.
Dr. Kelley of NC State adds, "We already grow more than 30 million acres of plantation pine across the Southeastern US. The challenge for this project is to extend this knowledge base to develop lower cost silvicultural systems for pine, and to extend these silvicultural systems so they can be used for other woody crops, and then to use these woody crops to produce biofuels and bioenergy in an integrated fashion.” He says developing the sustainability metrics that allow the tracking of environmental benefits and costs of these biofuels will be key to the project.
Dr. Steve Taylor commented that Auburn’s involvement will include developing efficient feedstock logistics systems that are safe for workers and environmentally friendly as well as advancing thermochemical conversion technologies to produce affordable fuels. “By bringing universities and the private sector together, this partnership will develop bioenergy solutions that increase energy security and strengthen rural economies,” Taylor said.
The IBSS partnership also involves several commercial technology partners, including ClearFuels-Rentech, Louisiana-Pacific Corp., DuPont Biofuels, Tetravitae Biosciences, and KiOR to insure consideration of appropriate industrial issues.
Two additional goals of the IBBS partnership are to develop economic and environmental modeling tools to assist policy-makers, financiers and landowners with investment decisions and to develop educational materials that will address public concerns regarding the viability of a biofuels industry. Kelley said, “We need to collect all of this information and to engage the local communities to answer their questions, and provide advice on how they can use their local assets to benefit for this developing industry."
Rials says the funding also allows for additional educational efforts to help prepare the current and future workforce to contribute to the growth and sustainability of a new bioenergy industry in the Southeast.
Dr. Tim Rials, Director, UTIA Center for Renewable Carbon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Patricia McDaniels, UTIA Marketing and Communications Services, 615-835-4570, email@example.com
About The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and public service through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; the UT College of Veterinary Medicine; UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers; and UT Extension with offices in all 95 Tennessee counties.
The Center for Renewable Carbon functions across the units of the UT Institute of Agriculture. In addition to its research programs, the CRC will utilize UT Extension programs as appropriate to reach out to clientele statewide and will work with the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources to establish educational opportunities that will train the future research and industrial workforce required to develop and maintain a sustainable bioeconomy. http://renewablecarbon.tennessee.edu/