Competitive Grant Programs

U.S. Department of Transportation-Funded
Competitive Grants Program

Grants Awarded

A Forest Residue-Based Pyrolysis Biorefinery. (2009-)

PI: Karl Englund, Washington State University

Biorefineries have the potential to produce much-needed biofuels, supply valuable bioproducts, utilize waste streams and create jobs in rural communities. Dr. Englund and his research team propose to develop a new forest residue-based Biorefinery for producing bio-oils while concurrently developing formaldehyde-free resin from some of the unusable fractions. This new Biorefinery model uses a pyrolysis process, which applies very high temperatures to convert biomass into various products. This approach will diversify the value of forest biomass. (Read more...)


Arid Land Development of Sweet Sorghum as a Renewable Feedstock. (2009-)

PI: Kimberly Ogden, University of Arizona

Alternative fuel production is of increasing interest throughout the U.S. and cost and demand increase while fossil fuel supplies are decreasing on a global scale. The Southwestern U.S. is an ideal place for feedstock growth, with an abundance of sunny days; however, limited water availability is a growing concern. Dr. Ogden will investigate a feedstock that requires low inputs of nutrients, energy and water. Sweet sorghum is salt tolerant and requires less seed, fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation water and tillage than other crops currently used for ethanol production. (Read more...)


Assessment of Production and Transportation Practices for Sweet Sorghum (2011-)

PI: Kimberly Ogden, University of Arizona

Alternative fuel production is of increasing interest throughout the U.S. and the world as cost and demand increase while fossil fuel supplies decrease on a global scale.  Kimberly Ogden and her team will assess the potential of sweet sorghum as an energy crop in the Southwest including field and fermentation studies to optimize production as well as economic and life cycle assessments (LCA).  Sweet sorghum requires low inputs of nutrients, energy and water.


Bio-electrolysisBio-electrolysis: Novel Technology for Hydrogen Production from Lignocellulosic Biomass. (2007-)

PI: Hong Liu, Oregon State University.

Hydrogen, one of the cleanest and most desirable fuels, is expected to play an increasingly important role in our economy. At present, non-renewable fossil fuels are the main sources of hydrogen production. The overall goal of the proposed research is to develop a novel bio-electrolytic process to generate hydrogen directly from renewable, abundant and readily available lignocellulosic biomass in a cost-effective manner. Dr. Liu, along with Kaichang Li (OSU), will examine the factors affecting hydrogen production from complex lignocellulosic biomass in order to improve the overall efficiency of the process. The team will use pine wood flour as the model lignocellulosic biomass. The successful completion of this project will result in the development of a novel process for hydrogen production from woody biomass. (Read more...)


Bioprospecting for Enzymes to Break Lignin-Hemicellulose Bonds (2011-)

PI: Tom Chang, Utah State University

The major impediment to the use of forest biomass for biofuels and platform chemicals is the difficulty of separating the polysaccharides in wood from lignin. The problem is mostly due to ether bonds between lignin and hemicelluloses, which are likely to be non-glycosidic.  Tom Chang and his partner will investigate enzymes that that can break non-glycosidic ether bonds between lignin and hemicelluloses, thus cleaving the carbohydrates from lignin instead of using current environmentally unfriendly high stringency chemical procedures.  The long-term goal is to enhance the efficiency in biofuel production from lignin-containing biomass.


John CushmanBiofuels from Salt Basin Algae: A Renewable Energy Crop for Carbon Sequestration. (2007-)

PI: John Cushman, University of Nevada, Reno.

The long-term goal of this research project is to optimize the use of halophytic microalgae as a biofuels crop. Halophytic algae are an ideal renewable energy resource because they can be grown on marginal lands with brackish or saline water and have been shown to be thirty times more productive than terrestrial feedstocks. Dr. Cushman and his co-PIs will screen algae strains and mutants for high production of triacylglycerols (TAGs) under different growing conditions and identify genes related to oil production by microarray analysis. Ultimately, this project will provide an assessment of the potential of algae as a biodiesel feedstock. The PIs will educate the public of their results with a room-size demonstration production facility and develop a pilot-scale proof -of-concept algae-based biodiesel production system. (Read more...)

Camelina improvement for insensitivity to residual herbicide activity. (2009-)

PI: Scot Hulbert, Washington State University

Camelina is a newly emerging crop that has considerable potential as a biofuels feedstock in the inland Pacific Northwest and also has potential for making cropping systems more sustainable. However, it is extremely sensitive to residual amounts of certain herbicides (Group 2, imidazolinone) in the soil, which could hinder adoption of the crop by potential growers. Dr. Hulbert and his co-PI have initiated a program to develop Camelina lines that are resistant to these herbicides, thus reducing the risks to those who want to adopt this crop as part of their crop rotation plan. The ultimate goal is to quickly release these new lines of Camelina to all interested breeders and seed producers. (Read more...)


Customizing biodiesel derived from tropical trees. (2008-)

PI: Richard Ogoshi, University of Hawaii

The remote locations and distinctive flora of the Pacific Islands create a unique situation for biofuel production. The project team is investigating the use of coconut, kamani, and Jatropha trees as feedstocks for biodiesel production, which would enhance energy self-sufficiency for these locales. Substitution of biodiesel has significant environmental advantages in reducing engine emissions of particulates, hydrocarbon, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, although there can be an increase in the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), an important contributor to smog, acid rain, and other atmospheric pollutants. The multi-institutional team seeks to determine the growing conditions for the trees that may result in low NOx emitting biodiesel. The project combines agronomic research and chemical analysis (through the lab of the Alaska co-PI) to develop viable, low polluting biofuels with enhanced fuel properties that can potentially improve air quality and decrease emissions of green house gases and those contributing to acid rain. (Read more...)


CoatsDevelopment of a Bio-based Industry Utilizing Organic Waste Streams: Production of Biological Thermoplastics and Natural Fiber-Thermoplastic Composites. (2007-)

PI: Erik Coats, University of Idaho.
Biologically-derived polyesters known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) represent a potentially sustainable replacement to fossil-fuel based thermoplastics. However, current commercial production of PHAs exhibits higher fossil fuel demands and generates more carbon emissions, and is therefore not environmentally benign. Dr. Coats, and his co-PI seek to develop new biobased products and processes that utilize waste streams, improve waste management practices, enhance rural economic development opportunities, and ultimately, lead toward reduction in the dependence of petroleum-based feed stocks and products. (Read more...)


Development of Camelina as a Low-Input Oilseed Crop for Oregon, Idaho and Washington. (2007-)

PI: Russell Karow, Oregon State University

Camelina, a member of the mustard family, is an annual oilseed crop that has been used and cultivated since the Bronze Age. Present-day preliminary research has shown that this crop possesses unique agronomic traits that make it well-suited to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) as a possible feedstock for bioproduct production. A multi-state team is conducting trials at four sites in the PNW examining crop response to seeding rate, nitrogen rates, planting dates and climate. The ultimate goal of this research project is to develop agronomic practices to incorporate camelina into PNW crop production systems and assist the fledgling oilseed industry’s understanding and utilization of this crop. (Read more...)


Enhanced Production of Reactive Intermediates from Cellulosic Biomass for Aqueous-Phase Catalytic Processing to Drop-In Fuels (2011-)

PI: Charles Wyman, University of California, Riverside

Reactive intermediates (RIs) produced from cellulosic biomass, such as furfural, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), levulinic acid (LA), and formic acid (FA), can be catalytically converted into drop-in fuels  that are compatible with the existing petroleum infrastructure. However, most catalytic conversions of these compounds have been with pure compounds in water, and experience in catalytic processing of RIs from actual biomass streams is limited. In addition, RI yields from cellulosic biomass are low by conventional aqueous processing. Charles Wyman proposes to fill that gap by building on existing expertise, equipment, and capabilities to develop processes that will provide commercially attractive, high yields.


Exploring Field Crop Biomass Sources for Use in Pacific Ethanol's Boardman, Oregon Cellulosic Plant. (2009-)

PI: Russell Karow, Oregon State University

Pacific Ethanol, in Boardman, Oregon, is the recipient of a federal grant to establish a 1/10th scale cellulosic ethanol pilot plant adjacent to their existing corn-based ethanol facility. This new plant will require 40-50,000 tons per year of feedstock materials, a full scale facility 400-500,000 tons. While biomass needed for pilot plant operation can be readily obtained, full scale plant operation volumes seem problematic, but may be feasible with creative cropping system approaches. Dr. Karow and his multi-institution team will explore the possibility of delivering feedstock at the required level to the plant. (Read more...)


Feasibility of Biopolymer Production in Poplar. (2009-)

PI: Steven Strauss, Oregon State University

The production of bioplastics from plants is a proven technology; however, the biological yield has generally been too low to be economically viable or production compromises plant health to an unacceptable degree. Dr. Strauss and his co-PIs have found in preliminary work that significant levels of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) can be produced in and extracted from poplar, the first woody plant in which PHB production has been confirmed, with no apparent negative effects on plant health. The team will test new genetic lines of poplar for increased PHB output in the leaves without harming biomass production for wood products. They will also develop practical methods for extraction and bioprocessing of PHB, and analyze the economic, environmental and regulatory feasibility of PHB production in poplar. (Read more...)


poplarHybrid Poplar as a Regional Ethanol Feedstock: Its Development, Production and Economics. (2007-)

PI: Jon Johnson, Washington State University

Hybrid poplar is a well-known biomass feedstock in the Western U.S. and has a number of advantages over other feedstocks: fast-growing, widely adaptable to various soils and climates, and requires low energy inputs to grow. The goal of this research project is to couple hybrid poplar production with end-use ethanolproduction. Dr. Swanson, working in collaboration with industrial partners, will analyze feedstock taken from selected hybrid poplar clones to develop ethanol yield data, with will then be used to determine breeding and selecting criteria of hybrid poplar with specific feedstock characteristics. The team will also conduct an economic analysis of the process using the yield data. At project completion, the best performing hybrid poplar varieties, along with economic feasibility and planting recommendations, will be shared through a project website maintained by Washington State University. (Read more...)


Lesquerella: A Low-water Use Crop as a Source of Biofuel Performance Enhancement for the Western United States (2011-)

PI: Dennis Ray, University of Arizona

Lesquerella, native to the United States and Mexico, has the potential to rival any conventional oilseed crop with unique, functional molecules in its seed oil. While there is significant interest and demand for lesquerella oil by industry, Southwestern growers have two major concerns before they are willing to commit to commercial scale production: (1) weed control, and (2) irrigation and fertility requirements.  Dennis Ray will address these hurdles through his research project.


Life Cycle, Sustainability and Economic Analysis of Cellulosic Ethanol from Grass Straw in the Pacific Northwest. (2009-)

PI: Ganti Murthy, Oregon State University

Conversion of cellulosic feedstocks into liquid biofuels is critically dependent on the processing technology.   Various pretreatment technologies have been developed for cellulosic feedstocks to facilitate enzymatic  hydrolysis and fermentation. Choice of pretreatment technology, while dependent on feedstock, is also a function of energy use, capital costs, downstream processing and possible environmental impact. Dr. Murthy seeks to answer these questions through the development of engineering and economic models, as well as life cycle analysis of the conversion of grass straws to cellulosic ethanol. This study will provide information on using Pacific Northwest biomass in a sustainable, economic and environmentally friendly manner. (Read more...)


New Concept to Obtain High Yields of Pyrolytic Sugars for Ethanol Production. (2009-)

PI: Manuel Garcia-Perez, Washington State University

The diverse nature of biomass resources in the Pacific Northwest requires suitable technologies for the conversion of dispersed feedstocks, especially forest residues. Dr. Garcia-Perez proposes a new model that uses distributed pyrolysis units located close to biomass resources and centralized refineries where second generation transportation fuels and high value chemicals can be obtained taking advantage of economies of scale. (Read more...)


Overcoming Crop Production Hurdles to Develop Russian Dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz, TKS) as a Renewable Domestic Source of Natural Rubber and Ethanol (2011-)

PI: Richard Roseberg, Oregon State University

Natural rubber (NR), derived from the Brazilian rubber tree, is essential for manufacturing a wide array of industrial products.   The United States uses over $6 billion worth of raw NR annually, and is completely dependent on imports.  In the 1930s Soviet scientists identified the roots of Russian dandelion (TKS) as a promising source of NR that could be grown as an annual crop in temperate climatic zones.  In addition to high quality rubber, TKS roots also produce inulin as a byproduct that can be converted into ethanol.  Richard Roseberg will address crop production issues of TKS in an effort to optimize rubber and inulin production.


Regional Economic Analysis of Feedstock Production and Feedstock Processing for Biofuels in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. (2007-)

PI: David Holland, Washington State University.

Existing analysis of feedstock production potential and economic impacts have largely excluded Pacific Northwest (PNW) states. Drs. Holland and Painter, along with a multidisciplinary team, will examine crop and fuel production for biodiesel, corn ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska using current IMPLAN data for each state. The team seeks to answer the following questions: 1) can in-state developed feedstocks and production industries compete with imported feedstocks; 2) will biofuels feedstocks be an attractive alternative crop across the varied production regions in the PNW; and 3) how will increased biofuels production and utilization impact the broader regional economy. The researchers will develop Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) economic simulation models incorporating biofuels production activities into the regional economies of each state and the region as a whole. The resulting data will inform policymakers and elected officials as well as agriculture and industry industries. (Read more...)


bioconversionSynergies Between Heme Peroxidases and Cellulases in the Bioconversion of Lignocellulosic Feedstocks to Ethanol. (2007-)

PI: Christine Kelly, Oregon State University

Forest thinning, particularly forestry wastes composed of softwoods, in the Western region are a major potential source of biomass for biofuel production. However, softwoods, such as Douglas fir, tend to be more resistant to conversion processes due to the high presence of lignin. Dr. Kelly, along with her co-PIs, proposes to develop a new enzyme-mediated bioconversion process technology for more efficient separation of Lignocellulosic biomass into its component parts for bioconversion to ethanol. The team will examine fungal heme peroxidases to discover new “accessory” enzymes that function synergistically with the latest generation of commercially available cellulases to increase the rate and extent of conversi on of softwoods to ethanol. (Read more...)


Grant Program Archives: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2011