About Us

Diversity is the core of the Western Region's strengths.

Ranging from Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington, the region also includes the Pacific Territories of Guam and American Samoa, and the U.S. affiliated island nations of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Western Region is a culturally diverse area with widely variable environments and ecosystems.  There are large amounts of woody biomass and some areas with potential for high yield crop production, in addition to waste and residues from the large variety of crops and timber grown in the area.  Rural areas have large distance between population centers and this region frequently has limited production scale, and in some situations, areas have limited infrastructure.

 

Mission

Rationale for the Sun Grant Initiative

Canola farmBiobased products hold the promise of enhancing America's energy security, bringing greater diversity and stability to American agriculture, and promoting opportunities for economic development in rural areas. Because of current global events and economic instability, the demand is growing rapidly for domestic sources of energy and biobased products.

American consumers have felt the pinch of high energy costs. American farmers have been experiencing economic hardships as well, resulting in a devastating exodus to urban centers. Viable economic alternatives and diversity are needed in agriculture to bolster the Nation's independent farm families.

Agriculture can reduce America's reliance on imported fossil fuels and petroleum-based products by producing feedstock for a biobased shift to production of . . .

  • Fuels like ethanol and biodiesel
  • Electrical power
  • Lubricants
  • Plastics
  • Solvents
  • Adhesives
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Cosmetics
  • Building materials
  • Numerous other biobased products.

The Sun Grant Mission              

The mission of the Sun Grant Initiative is to Canola field

  • Enhance national energy security through development, distribution and implementation of biobased energy technologies,
  • Promote diversification in and the environmental sustainability of, agricultural production in the United States through biobased energy and products technologies;
  • Promote economic diversification in rural areas of the nited States through biobased energy and product technologies; and
  • Enhance the efficiency of bioenergy and biomass research and development programs through improved coordination and collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the land-grant colleges and universities.

Motivations and Benefits

  • Enhance national energy security through development, distribution and implementation of biobased energy technologies;
  • Promote biobased diversification and environmental sustainability of America's agriculture;
  • Promote opportunities for biobased economic diversification in rural communities. Agriculture can contribute greatly by producing feedstocks for production of fuels, electrical power, lubricants, plastics, solvents, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, building materials, and numerous other biobased products. This biobased shift would reduce our reliance on petroleum-based products. Motivation for Transition to a Biobased Economy
  • National Energy Security - Biobased fuels that can be produced within the United States will decrease our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum.
  • Economic Development - New industries will be created in the production, processing, and manufacturing of biobased products.
  • Environmental Quality Preservation - Use of biofuels will reduce greenhouse gas production.
  • Science and Technology are Ready! - Recent advances in molecular biology, genomics, and nanobiotechnology provide the tools for significant advances for a transition to a biobased economy.

Who Benefits?

  • Independent Farmers - Diversification of crops needed for growing fuels in the USA;
  • Rural Communities - Economic diversification based on new markets for biomass;
  • The Public at Large - Energy security through more US-produced fuels.

Implementation

A network of five land-grant universities serve as regional Sun Grant centers: South Dakota State University, Oregon State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, and Cornell University. Oregon State University is the Western Regional Center of the Sun Grant Initiative.

The Sun Grant Initiative will create university-based research, extension and educational programs for biobased energy technologies. Much of the initiative's focus is on generating new and innovative ideas. Accordingly, three-fourths of the Initiative's funding is earmarked for competitive grants.

The Sun Grant Initiative will enlist the resources of the land-grant universities. Partnerships with private sector entities, foundations, other educational institutions, local, state and federal governments and other organizations will be essential.

Conclusion

A new era is dawning for research, rural development and land-grant service, and it holds great potential for the universities and rural economies of the United States.

The founding principles of the Sun Grant Initiative are to develop biobased products, many of them with industrial applications, and to stimulate renewed economic activity, particularly in rural areas, through renewable energy and new biobased, non-food industries.

Authorization and funding this nationwide biobased energy research program has provided momentum. Now is the time to consider the impacts and benefits this landmark initiative holds for your region and to identify roles that your organization can have in this important effort.

Western States News

Alaska

Research in the areas of biofuels and bioproducts is a fairly new undertaking at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Scientists are focused on something Alaska has in abundance: wood - from managed forests, clearing for firebreaks at urban/wildland interfaces, and cultivated plantations.

Arizona

One focus of Arizona’s Sun Grant-related work has been on the many unique crops and plants that thrive here. For example, many indigenous plants of the American Southwest have the capacity to survive in the hostile desert environment as well as high photosynthetic capacities

California

Hawaii

Sun Grant-related research at the University of Hawaii includes three focal areas: bench-scale thermal gasification studies, development of new feedstock from oil crops, and development of a cyanobacterial system for ethanol production.

Idaho

Spontaneous combustion can be a problem in biodiesel plants, where rags or sawdust soaked in biodiesel or oil can spontaneously ignite, causing serious fires.

Nevada

Oregon

Oregon's long-standing commitment to biobased R&D includes wide-ranging research on biofuels, bioproducts, and environmental remediation. Given the tremendous diversity of climate, geology, and soils within the Western Region, Oregon's focus has been on identifying those feedstocks uniquely appropriate for the state and complementary to those of other regions.

Utah

Two initiatives at Utah State University exemplify Utah's commitment to the Sun Grant mission. The first is the ongoing work of the Center for Profitable Uses of Agricultural Byproducts. The second initiative is Dr. Yajun Wu's work at Utah State developing low-lignin biomass for ethanol production.

Washington

Washington State has one of the most comprehensive biofuel and bioproduct research and outreach programs in the Western Region, centered at Washington State University and administered through the WSU Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy (CBB). WSU research and outreach on Sun Grant-related topics span four key areas: (1) biomass residues to products and fuels; (2) crop feedstock improvement and production; (3) biobased engineered materials; and (4) analysis of bioproducts and biofuels.

Pacific Territories

Alaska

Alaska Sun Grant Activities

Alaska mountains

Alaska mountains in the fall

Unalakleet River

Unalakleet National Wild River

Biomass tree farm

Biomass tree farm

Canola field

Canola Field

Research in the areas of biofuels and bioproducts is a fairly new undertaking at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Scientists are focused on something Alaska has in abundance: wood - from managed forests, clearing for firebreaks at urban/wildland interfaces, and cultivated plantations. As a result, interest is increasing in biofuels research, including chips, pellets that use waste products, wood, and wood/coal combinations. Technologies for using these fuels include those adapted to homes, mid-size installations that might be appropriate for schools and smaller rural communities, and larger plants for use in urban areas and military bases. Work in this area will be in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Division of Forestry, and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, a private group working as a university partner.

The UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in partnership with an Alaska-based biotechnology firm, and the Cooperative Extension Service are exploring development of plant-based nutraceuticals from native Alaskan species and cultivated berries and vegetables. Alaska berries are higher in antioxidants than comparable berries at lower latitudes.

Finally, researchers at UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences are conducting research on products from birch trees, an abundant genus in Alaska. The products of interest include birch sap and birch bark.

An important priority for Alaska’s Sun Grant-related work is to address the specific concerns and needs of remote rural populations and areas of common interest to urban communities such as energy supplies and sustainable economic development appropriate to smaller communities and Alaska’s remote location.

Arizona

Arizona Sun Grant Activities

Ephedra

Ephedra, also known as Mormon Tea

Given the tremendous diversity within the Western Region, research has emphasized those feedstocks and other crops uniquely appropriate for the region in terms of self-sufficiency and complementary to those of other regions.

One focus of Arizona’s Sun Grant-related work has been on the many unique crops and plants that thrive here. For example, many indigenous plants of the American Southwest have the capacity to survive in the hostile desert environment as well as high photosynthetic capacities. Both of these attributes contribute to the production and accumulation of large quantities of secondary plant compounds, some of which have commercial applications as specialty chemicals.

Acacia senegal, an African species which can be cultivated in the US Southwest is known to produce Gum Arabic which is used internally in treating inflammation of intestinal mucosa and externally to cover inflamed surfaces. Arizona researchers have found an Acacia species which grows well in the Arizona desert and produces a useful anticancer agent.

Another local species, Mormon tea (Ephedra), is a popular herbal supplement which grows in arid environments. Unlike the Chinese Ephedra, it does not contain ephedrine, and is therefore safe to use. There currently is a considerable market for Mormon tea in Utah and Colorado. Finally, Arizona researchers are also examining sweet sorghum as a potential feedstock for ethanol production.

In the News:

Department of Energy Announces $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research

June 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the investment of up to $24 million for three research groups to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector—a goal of the Department's continued effort to spur the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs. Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of the Administration's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation toward energy independence.

"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. "The United States must find effective ways to hasten the development of technologies for advanced biofuels made from algae and other renewable resources to reduce our need for foreign sources of oil." Zoi made the announcement while speaking today at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

The consortia consist of partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries that are based across the country, broadening the geographic range and technical expertise of DOE partners in the area of algal biofuels. Projects are expected to continue for a period of three years. Together, they represent a diversified portfolio that will help accelerate algal biofuels development with the objective of significantly increasing production of affordable, high-quality algal biofuels that are environmentally and economically sustainable.

Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium (Mesa, Arizona): Led by Arizona State University, this consortium will focus on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-based fuels. Tasks include investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, and analyzing physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates. (DOE share: up to $6 million)

California

Coming soon!

Hawaii

Hawaii Sun Grant News

sugarcane field
Oceanside sugarcane field
Jatropha curcas
Jatropha curcas field
Dairy waste runoff management energy system
Dairy waste runoff management energy system

 

Sun Grant-related research at the University of Hawaii includes three focal areas: bench-scale thermal gasification studies, development of new feedstock from oil crops, and development of a cyanobacterial system for ethanol production.

Within the broad thermal gasification arena, research is focusing on alkali removal from biomass-derived gas using solid sorbents, tracking fuel-bound nitrogen, tracking inorganic constituents in biomass, and catalytic reforming of tars and oils.

The second area is evaluating non-traditional oil crops, including Jatropha curcas and Pongamia pinnata, as potential feedstocks for biodiesel and charcoal production. These trees were chosen for their low resource input requirements and their ability to thrive on poor soil. Their cultivation on marginal lands will promote land reclamation and inhibit soil erosion, while not competing with food crops for agricultural land. Partners in these efforts include the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, Pacific Biodiesel, Oils of Aloha, and Volcano Island Honey Company.

Finally, while most of the ethanol production in the U.S. is produced via fermentation of starch crops, a study at CTAHR's Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering is investigating a cyanobacteria-based system to produce ethanol. The environmental benefit of this system is the conversion of CO2, a greenhouse gas, into bioethanol, a renewable energy source.

Projects of Interest

Wastewater Management


In the News:

Department of Energy Announces $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research

June 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the investment of up to $24 million for three research groups to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector—a goal of the Department's continued effort to spur the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs. Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of the Administration's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation toward energy independence.

"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. "The United States must find effective ways to hasten the development of technologies for advanced biofuels made from algae and other renewable resources to reduce our need for foreign sources of oil." Zoi made the announcement while speaking today at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

The consortia consist of partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries that are based across the country, broadening the geographic range and technical expertise of DOE partners in the area of algal biofuels. Projects are expected to continue for a period of three years. Together, they represent a diversified portfolio that will help accelerate algal biofuels development with the objective of significantly increasing production of affordable, high-quality algal biofuels that are environmentally and economically sustainable.

Cellana, LLC Consortium (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii): Led by Cellana, LLC, this consortium will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. Tasks include integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)

Khosla Ventures, Hawaiian Electric to collaborate

By Susanne Retka Schill Web exclusive posted Dec. 29, 2008, at 4:06 p.m. CST

Khosla Ventures and Hawaiian Electric Co. have agreed to collaborate on evaluation and early deployment of green-energy technologies. The companies will work with entrepreneurs and start-up companies developing clean technology with the goal of accelerating the commercialization of promising new products and services.

Founded in 2004 by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Khosla Ventures supports breakthrough scientific work in clean technology areas and offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs.

“In its position, Khosla Ventures is exposed to innovative new companies and green technologies,” said Karl Stahlkopf, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for energy solutions and chief technology officer. “Through this first-of-its kind agreement, Hawaiian Electric will be able to evaluate and test promising technologies on our systems, with the hope that contributing to their development will allow even greater opportunities for us to use them in Hawaii.”

Under a memorandum of understanding formally signed recently, Hawaiian Electric and Khosla Ventures shall regularly share information regarding new products or services in the area of clean technology development. “The evaluations and assessments provided by Hawaiian Electric will be invaluable in helping to insure clean energy technologies developed by the start-up companies are ready to meet the demands of commercial deployment and focused on the most promising target markets,” said Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures’ founder.
 Hawaiian Electric is looking to implement a range of renewable technologies for electrical generation. In addition to wind and solar, Hawaiian Electric plans to convert its existing oil-fired generation over to biofuel, explained Peter Rosegg, corporate communications director for Hawaiian Electric. A100 megawatt combustion turbine is currently under construction on Oahu Island that will use biodiesel. The island of Maui is heavily dependent on petroleum diesel for up to 80 percent of its electric generation, he added. “We believe based on experience and testing that can be replace virtually barrel for barrel with biofuel. In 2009 we will commence testing generating units that use low sulfur fuel oil to see how strong a blend of biofuel can be added to keep those units running at top efficiency.”

Hawaiian Electric is partnering in an algae production project with Maui landowner Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and start-up HR BioPetroleum Inc. The plan is to create a commercial-scale algae facility adjacent to the Ma’alaea Power Plant. Hawaiian Electric is also a partner in the proposed BlueEarth Biofuels LLC 40 MMgy biodiesel processing plant on Maui, which is expected to be operational in early 2010. The goal is to use locally grown oil feedstocks such as algae, jatropha or palm.

Maui Island gets biomass electricity generated as a coproduct from the last sugar plantation in the state, and Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, has several biomass projects in the works.

Hawaiian Electric’s focus on renewable power generation fits into an initiative launched in early December to establish an electric-car network in the state. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle signed a memorandum of understanding with Better Place Hawaii, to collaborate on the infrastructure and energy sources to power Better Place’s network of public charging spots and battery swapping stations with renewable energy. “The Hawaiian Electric companies believe that the Better Place model coming to Hawaii will not only reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by substituting electric vehicles for internal combustion engine vehicles,” Rosegg said, “but can help us provide a larger off-peak market for all kinds of renewables.”

Nevada

Planting biofuel crops

Planting biofuel crops

Oregon

Oregon Sun Grant News

Bioenergy research lab

Bioenergy Research Lab

Hybrid poplars

Hybrid poplars

Meadowfoam flowers

Meadowfoam flowers

Oregon's long-standing commitment to biobased R&D includes wide-ranging research on biofuels, bioproducts, and environmental remediation. Given the tremendous diversity of climate, geology, and soils within the Western Region, Oregon's focus has been on identifying those feedstocks uniquely appropriate for the state and complementary to those of other regions.

In addition to examining types of feedstocks, Oregon has been conducting further R&D into biomass production and conversion (especially in the areas of agricultural and timber residues, which represent major feedstock opportunities in the Western states), biogas from animal and urban wastes, and transportation fuels, in conjunction with power generation and co-product development. Examples of valuable co-products under investigation are industrial proteins and enzymes, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, "natural" crop control chemicals, and structural materials that could be obtained from each state's unique crops and plants.

Oregon investigators are also conducting R&D in processing technology that includes microbial and solar driven hydrogen fuel cells, microprocessing of biodiesel production, and processing biosensors. In the area of bioremediation, scientists at Oregon State University's Klamath Experiment Station have been investigating the possibility of using fast-growing hybrid poplars and other crops to treat sewage effluent.

 

News Articles

Study Finds Net Energy Of Biofuels Comes At a High Cost

By Peg Herring, 541-737-9180
Source: William Jaeger, 541-737-1419

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new economic analysis of biofuels by Oregon State University sets a cautionary tone for the large-scale production of biofuels in Oregon. Results of the study suggest that the "net energy" of biofuel is expensive when all costs of its production and delivery are taken into account. [more]

 

ODA releases report about energy and agriculture in Oregon

Oregon farmers and ranchers have made many energy efficiency improvements, and some have even installed renewable energy projects. However, many opportunities remain. A report released this week from the Oregon Department of Agriculture describes the types of projects that farmers and ranchers have installed, identifies existing resources to help farmers and ranchers complete these projects, and suggests strategies to promote greater energy efficiency and renewable energy adoption in agriculture.
 
Download the report (2.1 MB pdf)

 

Oregon Senate passes biomass inventory bill

The Oregon Senate has passed a bill that would require the state forestry department to perform inventories of potential woody biomass resources for energy production.

Utah

Utah Sun Grant News

Two initiatives at Utah State University exemplify Utah's commitment to the Sun Grant mission. The first is the ongoing work of the Center for Profitable Uses of Agricultural Byproducts. The Center was established in 2000 to strengthen the rural economy by working closely with farmers, ranchers, and agricultural businesses to bring them technologies that they need and want. The center's main project thus far is the induced blanket reactor (IBR) anaerobic digester, which can make electricity from manure. The manure produced by a typical 1,000 cow dairy or 6,000 hog farm can generate enough electricity for 100 homes. 

The second initiative is Dr. Yajun Wu's work at Utah State developing low-lignin biomass for ethanol production. Ethanol production from biomass currently requires pretreatment of cell walls using methods such as steam explosion and acid hydrolysis to make tightly bound cellulose more available for microbial or fungal treatment. The acid-insoluble lignin fraction is retained with the pretreated biomass. The process of ethanol production would be made easier if the biomass was low in lignin to begin with. Dr. Wu has demonstrated that genetic engineering can be used to reduce lignin content by controlling the enzymes that catalyze the last step of lignin synthesis, i.e., polymerization. A mutation in a single laccase in Arabidopsis resulted in a 30% reduction in lignin content specifically in the seed coat. Twelve laccase genes have been identified.

Washington

Washington Sun Grant News

Canola fields on the Columbia

Canola fields along the Columbia River

Hybrid poplar

Hybrid poplar plantings

Canola farm

Canola farm

Washington State has one of the most comprehensive biofuel and bioproduct research and outreach programs in the Western Region, centered at Washington State University and administered through the WSU Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy (CBB). WSU research and outreach on Sun Grant-related topics span four key areas: (1) biomass residues to products and fuels; (2) crop feedstock improvement and production; (3) biobased engineered materials; and (4) analysis of bioproducts and biofuels. 

Specific projects involve the areas of biodiesel and ethanol production, anaerobic digestion, bioenergy inventory assessments, polymer/wood composites, and bioproducts ranging from omega-3 fatty acids derived from glycerin to nisin and lactic acid from cheese whey and pharmaceuticals derived from genetically modified barley.

Key components working under the CBB umbrella are the Agri-Environmental and Bioproducts Engineering Research Group housed in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory housed within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Institute of Biological Chemistry and Department of Crop and Soil Sciences both housed within the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources Sciences and the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory located in the Tri-Cites which is a joint collaboration pilot-scale research facility housing both WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) personnel.  

WSU faculty and staff participate actively in bioproduct policy and planning bodies at the national, regional, and state level with WSU serving as the Washington project leader of the six-state Pacific Regional Biomass Energy Partnership. WSU Extension, particularly through the efforts of the WSU Energy Program and Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, play a vital role with the CBB in disseminating material and technologies throughout the state and region.

Pacific Territories

Pacific Territories Sun Grant News

Pacific Territories news coming soon!

Sun Grant Initiative Contacts

Western Region Contacts

John Talbott, Director
Western Regional Center
Oregon State University
138 Strand Ag. Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331
Phone - 541-737-2194
Fax - 541-737-3178
john.talbott@oregonstate.edu

 

The Five Regional Centers

The Five Regional Centers

5 Regional Sungrant CentersNorth Eastern Regional Center
(Penn State University) 

South Eastern Regional Center
(University of Tennessee)

North Central Regional Center
(South Dakota State University)

South Central Regional Center
(Oklahoma State University)

Western Regional Center
(Oregon State University)