Center Activities

Sun Grant Initiative Programs

Competitive Grants

One of the functions of Sun Grant is to provide competitive grants to researchers engaged in developing alternative energies and bioproducts.

Industrial Ecology

Cradle to Grave Analysis of Agricultural Biofuels and Bioproducts Systems

Sustainable Technologies Laboratory

Information about OSU's Sustainable Technologies lab, including links to the lab website and an educational presentation on biofuels.

Algae Institute

Western Region and its partners are working together to develop the Western States Algae Biotechnology and Biofuels Institute.

Agricultural Energy Audits

Rural Energy Audits by the OSU Energy Efficiency Center characterized agricultural energy uses and developed calculations and processes to conduct energy assessments at seven OSU facilities.

Farm to Fly

Sustainable Aviation Biofuels from U.S. Agriculture.

Research Priorities

Western region research program areas include: feedstock enhancement and development, biomass conversion and biofueul/bioenergy processing and bioproducts.

Pacific Island Sub-center

With more than 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs dependent on imported fossil fuels, we are particularly vulnerable to supply shortages.

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

OSU Bioenergy Programs

Algal Biofuels and Biotechnology Institute (ABBI)

An integrated approach: The proposed Algal Biofuels and Biotechnology Institute (ABBI) would integrate a broad spectrum of disciplines toward developing a comprehensive strategy for utilizing algae as a new source for food, energy and other valuable chemical entities. This would effectively develop algae as a new agricultural specialty crop which would not compete with existing human food crops for arable land or as alternative usage of valuable and limited human foodstuffs. Algae are capable of being grown in a wide variety of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and can be engineered and optimized to provide a wide variety of biofuels, food, and chemical feedstocks in an environmentally responsible and sustainable framework. There are many potential advantages of selecting algae as a photosynthetic biosynthetic platform for direct conversion of solar energy into useful products, including their rapid growth rates, the efficiency of single-celled organisms, the adaptability to modern genomic manipulation, the simple nutritional and energetic inputs required and the environmental and climatic adaptability of the organisms.

Algae Initiative Workshops

April 2009

The first Algae Initiative Workshop was held in April 2009 at OSU. Presentations included:

"Building Better Algae" by Dr. Craig Marcus, Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, OSU

"Enclosed Algal Photobioreactors for Sustainable Energy Applications" by Dr. Greg Rorrer, Department of Chemical, Biological and Ecological Engineering, OSU

"Biomass from Cyanobacteria: Opportunities for the Proposed Algae Biofuels and Biotechnology Institute at OSU" by Dr. Wayne Carmichael, Department of Biological Sciences, Wright University

July 2009

The second Algae Initiative Workshop was held July 30, 2009 at OSU. Dr. Lou Ogaard gave his presentation:

"Algae Biodiesel: A Path to Commercialization," Dr. Lou Ogaard, Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM)

Dr. Byung Lee, Director of the Bio-Energy Institute of Yeungnam University in Korea gave some perspective on international collaboration.

Participants then broke up into two separate breakout sessions:

Breakout Session #1, led by Dr. Ganti Murthy of Oregon State University: "Algae Biofuels and Bioproducts: Economics, feedstock logistics and processing technologies." Discussion covered points such as:

  • Identification of Pacific Northwest/Oregon resource bases
  • Production systems
  • Nutrition of large scale production
  • Harvesting and processing technologies

Breakout Session #2, led by Dr. Craig Marcus of Oregon State University: "Species Development for Bioproducts." Discussion included such topics as:

  • Identification of the OSU resource base
  • High throughput screening and sequencing
  • Eukaryotic vs. prokaryotic organisms
  • Marine vs. freshwater organisms; open pond vs. closed systems

Following breakout session discussions, participants regrouped for a final discussion.

Sustainable Technologies Laboratory

The Sustainable Technologies Laboratory (STL) recognizes that the development of environmentally benign and sustainable technologies is a critical need. Increasing the use of renewables for processing fuels and industrial products necessitates a systematic approach for utilization of renewable biomaterials. The STL strives to develop bioprocess technologies for processing renewable bioresources.

 Through multidisciplinary, inter- and intra-institutional collaborative efforts, the STL will focus on:

  1. Development of sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies to utilize renewable bioresources for production of fuels and value-added coproducts;
  2. Control of biological and ecological systems; and
  3. Process modeling, simulation and analysis.

 To find out more information about the Sustainable Technologies Laboratory, including educational materials and a list of current projects, visit their website at:

To view an overview of biofuels, click here.


The people of the STL  The people of the Sustainable Technologies Laboratory.


Algae Institute

Western Algal Biofuels and Biotechnology Institute (WesABBI)

An integrated approach: The proposed Western Algal Biofuels and Biotechnology Institute (WesABBI) would integrate a broad spectrum of disciplines toward developing a comprehensive strategy for utilizing algae as a new source for food, energy and other valuable chemical entities. This would effectively develop algae as a new agricultural specialty crop which would not compete with existing human food crops for arable land or as alternative usage of valuable and limited human foodstuffs.  Algae are capable of being grown in a wide variety of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and can be engineered and optimized to provide a wide variety of biofuels, food, and chemical feedstocks in an environmentally responsible and sustainable framework. There are many potential advantages of selecting algae as a photosynthetic biosynthetic platform for direct conversion of solar energy into useful products, including their rapid growth rates, the efficiency of single-celled organisms, the adaptability to modern genomic manipulation, the simple nutritional and energetic inputs required and the environmental and climatic adaptability of the organisms.

Farm Energy Assessments

Rural Energy Audits are offered by the OSU Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) for small and medium-sized agricultural operations. Student teams led by engineering faculty or graduate students visit Northwest producers and seek ways to increase profits by increasing productivity and reducing energy use and waste. Within 60 days, EESC sends a report to the client with analysis and specific recommendations to improve efficiency. If you are interested in a Rural Energy Audit, contact:


Nathan Keeley, OSU EEC Agricultural Operations Manager

Oregon State University
344 Batcheller Hall
Corvallis, OR 97331-2405

Voice: (541) 737-3004
Fax: (541) 737-5035

An example of a pre-audit letter complete with qualification requirements and necessary information can be viewed here.

In addition to performing energy audits, the EEC is developing a page of energy efficiency resources and references. To view the page, visit:

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 processing 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, appears 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.