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ESF Partners in $10M USDA Biofuels Grant

Project focuses on innovation, job creation in Northeast
10/19/2012

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is a partner in a $10 million research grant from theU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is aimed at developing a robust biofuels industry in the Northeast.

"The goal is to develop biomass businesses along every step of the way, from the growers who produce it to the companies that harvest and process it, all the way from the farm to the conversion into biofuels that are used by the consumer," said Dr. Timothy Volk of ESF, who is the assistant director of a new consortium established by the grant.

The funding establishes the Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium (NEWBio), a regional network of universities, businesses, and governmental organizations dedicated to working together to develop biomass supply chains.

The funding, made available through the USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is intended to focus on developing regional, renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs, and decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil. The grant, announced this week by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is the sixth award of its kind nationally.

ESF's role in the project involves research in areas of sustainability, logistics and social science.

Four ESF faculty members are involved in the project:

Volk, the assistant director of the new consortium, is also co-director of the SUNY Center for Sustainable and Renewable Energy based at ESF. He will work on the project with a longtime ESF colleague, Dr. Larry Abrahamson. They will build on more than 25 years of research and development work conducted at ESF on willow biomass crops. Their research will focus on sustainability issues and harvesting, storage and logistics aspects of willow biomass crops in the region.

Dr. Theresa Selfa, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, is a co-project director and co-lead for the human dimension work on the project.She will provide research leadershipand participate in social science data collection and analysis in case study sites in New York and Pennsylvania for the duration of the five-year project and will supervise a Ph.D. student working on the research.

Dr. Andrea Feldpausch-Parker, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, is a co-principal investigator for the project and member of the human dimensions working group. She will participate in social science data collection during the second and third years of the project with a focus on public and stakeholder perceptions of and interest in biomass energy.

Volk said the project is the next step in commercializing years of research into the viability of biomass as a sustainable energy source.

"It's going to take the research and development work that has been done and move it to the commercialization phase," he said. "It will enable businesses to apply the research and begin to grow a new economy".

"The creation of this biofuel system will significantly contribute to improving rural prosperity and job creation in the Northeast by funding effective public and private sector partnerships," Vilsack said in announcing the grant. "Overall, the six regional systems supported by USDA and the Obama administration represent an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by building the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry."

The new funding builds on ESF's long involvement in the development of shrub willow as an alternative, sustainable energy resource. The college is already a partner in a $4.3 million USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program grant to encourage the growth of shrub willow as a renewable energy fuel in Central and Northern New York.

The lead partner in the new grant is Pennsylvania State University. Joining Penn State and ESF in the project are Cornell University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, West Virginia University, University of Vermont, Drexel University, American Refining Group, Ernst Conservation Seeds, Case New Holland, Praxair, Inc., Idaho National Lab, Mascoma Biofuels, Primus Green Energy, Double A Willow, Aloterra Energy, Oak Ridge National Lab and USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

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