Research Priorities

Western region research priorities fall into program areas identified by a regional Advisory Committee and include priorities from our funding sources.  The programs include:

  • Feedstock enhancement and development
  • Biomass conversion and biofuel/bioenergy processing
  • Bioproducts development

 

Feedstock Enhancement and Development

Feedstock refers to any biomass resource destined for conversion to energy or to another form such as fuel or bioproducts.  For example, oilseeds are a feedstock for biodiesel or drop-in aviation biofuel production.  The goal of this research priority is to promote economic diversification through biomass development in rural areas, taking into consideration unique regional characteristics.

Feedstock Research Progress and Outcomes

Biofuel Dollars and Sense

Can biofuel crops produced in the Pacific Northwest be economically competitive with imported energy sources when all costs are taken into account?  Washington State University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Holland, and colleagues are constructing economic simulation models of PNW feedstock production for each PNW state to answer this question.  Results of this effort will be used to make recommendations for biofuel policy in these states.

 

Biomass Conversion and Biofuel/Bioenergy Processing

Conversion involves processing biomass into fuel, energy or bioproducts.  The goal of this research priority is to develop or improve conversion or separation technologies that will take advantage of the region's diversity of feedstocks while making them efficient, economical, and environmentally sound.  Technologies include feedstock pre-processing, improving efficiency of separations into biomass component parts, improving separation efficiencies for intermediate building blocks, and quantifying processng yields and efficiencies.

Conversion Research Progress and Outcomes

Softwoods into Biofuel: Fungus Can Help

Forest thinnings in the Western Region, particularly forestry wastes composed of softwoods, are a major potential source of biomass for biofuel production.  However, softwoods, such as Douglas fir, tend to be more resistant to conversion processes because of the high amounts of lignin.  Dr. Christine Kelly of Oregon State University, along with her co-PIs, has worked to develop a new fungal enzyme-mediated bioconversion technology for more efficient separaton of lignocellulosic biomass into its component parts for bioconversion to ethanol.  Thus far, the use of the enzyme manganese peroxidase, a degrading enzyme from wood fungi, appreas to be promising. 

 

Bioproducts Development

Bioproducts are any products such as fuels, chemicals, building materials, electric power, or heat that can be industrially produced from biomass.  The goal of this research priority is to develop biomass conversion processes and systems analyses that yield bioproducts with positive market and economic impacts.

Bioproducts Research Progress and Outcomes

Let's Not Waste Waste

Biologically-derived polysters known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are a potentially sustainable replacement to fossil-fuel based thermoplastics.  However, PHA production is still not environmentally friendly as production relies too heavily on fossil fuels and emits excess carbon dioxide.  Dr. Erik Coats at the University of Idaho is investigating the use of waste streams -- in particular dairy manure and crude glycerol (CG; a waste stream from biodiesel production) -- and mixed mcrobial consortia to produce PHAs.