Penn State biofuels researchers get large grants from USDA

University Park, Pa. -- Three researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently were awarded a total of more than $2.8 million in Sustainable Bioenergy Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Penn State was one of only four universities to get three of these grants, and no other institution received more support from the program.

Following are the Penn State recipients:

-- Surinder Chopra, associate professor of maize genetics, received $999,451 to study anthracnose, a fungal disease affecting sorghum and maize. His research aims to develop sorghum varieties that are less susceptible to the disease.

-- Roger Koide, professor of horticultural ecology, was awarded $963,543 to perform life-cycle assessments of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the conversion of marginal lands to switchgrass production. The research will determine the net effect of resultant biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions.

-- Nicole Brown, associate professor of wood chemistry, received $894,507 to create enhanced-value opportunities for biofuel co-products and residues produced in biofuel-production facilities and iron foundries.

Chopra's research is important because there is increasing interest in the evaluation and promotion of sorghum as a sustainable bioenergy crop substitute for maize (corn).

"Anthracnose stalk rot and leaf blight are among the most serious diseases of corn and sorghum, causing about 5 percent loss annually," he said. "My research will address the possibility that new and increased disease pressure for both maize and feedstock sorghum will result from the widespread introduction of sorghum."

Koide's research will add to the understanding of how a shift to the production of switchgrass on marginal lands will impact net greenhouse gas emissions. "Meeting the government's production target of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 will require that biofuel feedstock crops be grown on millions of acres not currently devoted to them," he said.

"To avoid competition with food production, much of the biofuel production is projected to occur on land that is 'marginal' with respect to row-crop cultivation. Switchgrass has been identified as a model biofuel crop because it can grow without irrigation in about half of the continental United States."

Brown's research is a multi-disciplinary effort involving Penn State professors Fred Cannon, Sridhar Komarneni and Robert Voigt, along with industry partner Furness-Newburge Inc. The project will convert three industrial waste streams into a novel, solid-fuel brick.

"We will incorporate lignin and silica-rich rice hull ash along with anthracite fines – a waste product -- to create a new fuel source for foundries and steel mills," she said. "Our product requires relatively little energy to form, emits less CO2 than its competitors, utilizes several industrial wastes, and appears to be economically viable."
 

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Last Updated May 18, 2012