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USDA grants support sustainable bioenergy production

US agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $10 million in research grants to spur production of bioenergy and biobased products that will lead to the development of sustainable regional systems and help create jobs. Vilsack highlighted the announcement today with a visit to Michigan State University, a grant awardee. The Secretary also pointed to a recent study released by Iowa State University (ISU), and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which finds that while the use of biobased products in automobile manufacturing is increasing, there are still many parts in the top-selling automobiles manufactured in the United States that may be replaced with biobased materials.

USDA and President Obama are committed to producing clean energy right here at home, to not only break our dependence on foreign oil, but also boost rural economies," said Vilsack. "These projects will give us the scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create co-products that will enhance the overall value of a biobased economy. Today, with a strong and diversified U.S. agricultural sector, the American automobile industry has a greater incentive for expanding use of biobased products while supporting good-paying jobs here in the United States."

USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI's sustainable bioenergy challenge area targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products that: contribute significantly to reducing dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are compatible with existing agricultural systems.

The long-term goal for the research projects, which were selected through a highly competitive process, is to implement sustainable regional systems that materially deliver liquid transportation biofuels to help meet the Energy Independence and Security Act goal of 36 billion gallons per year of biofuels by 2022. The programs focus on the many environmental, social and economic benefits and trade-offs associated with decisions and policies regarding the where, when, and how of national and regional biofuels development. Projects were awarded in four areas: 1) policy options for and impacts on regional biofuels production systems, 2) impacts of regional bioenergy feedstock production systems on wildlife and pollinators, 3) socioeconomic impacts of biofuels on rural communities, and 4) environmental implications of direct and indirect land use change.

Fiscal year 2012 awards include:

  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $36,000
  • Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $350,000
  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $345,689
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $496,996
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $497,851
  • Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, $493,210
  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $499,009
  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $350,000
  • Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich., $349,695
  • University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., $498,786
  • University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., $349,996
  • Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Miss., $273,120
  • University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., $499,447
  • Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Mo., $94,258
  • Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J., $349,963
  • Duke University, Durham, N.C., $349,084
  • University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla., $466,534
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $349,624
  • Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa., $149,977
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., $348,959
  • Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., $50,000
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., $350,000
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $255,972
  • Texas AgriLife Extension, College Station, Texas, $499,619
  • Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $349,993
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.V., $349,952
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., $496,109
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., $345,327
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, Ill., $500,000

AFRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Each award was made through a competitive selection process. An external peer review panel reviewed all proposals and made award decisions based on scientific merit to the best and brightest scientists across the nation.

The ISU report, Biobased Automobile Parts Investigation, shows that "the history of biobased automobile parts begins early in the development of automobiles themselves. During the 1930s, automobile pioneer Henry Ford began developing soy-based automobile parts." The report goes on to highlight how a variety of U.S. automobile manufacturers are showing a greater commitment to exploring biobased options, and provides a variety of resources for policymakers and other decision-makers interested in exploring the issue.

Creating new markets for the nation's agricultural products through biobased manufacturing is one of the many steps the Obama Administration has taken over the past four years to strengthen the rural economy. Since August 2011, the White House Rural Council has supported a broad spectrum of rural initiatives including a Presidential Memorandum to create jobs in rural America through biobased and sustainable product procurement; a $350 million commitment in SBA funding to rural small businesses over the next 5 years; launching a series of conferences to connect investors with rural start-ups; creating capital marketing teams to pitch federal funding opportunities to private investors interested in making rural connections; and making job search information available at 2,800 local USDA offices nationwide.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).
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