USDA-NIFA Grants Center Project to Develop a Novel Two-Stage Reactor for Syngas Fermentation
July 6th, 2017

AtiyehDr. Hasan Atiyeh, Associate Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater, OK, received a USDA-NIFA Center Award through the South Central Sun Grant Program to conduct a study on “A two-stage reactor and cell recycle system for enhanced alcohol production from syngas”. Dr. Atiyeh collaborates with Dr. Ralph Tanner from the University of Oklahoma and Dr. Leon Popik of LeMar Industries.

Atiyeh’s team will develop a stable and efficient two-stage syngas fermentation producing at least 40 g/L ethanol with a residence time of 40 hours or less. The team also aims to identify the operating parameters for the two-stage reactor that results in the highest ethanol titer and productivity.

This project will contribute to the development of viable conversion processes for sustainable production of fuels and chemicals at commercial scale.

Deadline Extended: Submit Technical and Poster Session Abstracts for Bioeconomy 2017 by May 26!
May 19th, 2017

Don’t miss your chance to present at Bioeconomy 2017: Domestic Resources for a Vibrant Future! The deadline to submit abstracts for the Bioeconomy 2017 Interactive Poster Session and Open Technical Session has been extended to May 26, 2017.

This year’s poster session will again offer a platform to engage directly with conference attendees as all posters will be required to feature an interactive element. Interactive elements can include voting or polling, social media, games and challenges, or any other activity that will involve the audience’s participation.

Technical presentation abstracts should address one of the following topics:

  1. synthetic biology and novel pathway engineering for the emerging bioeconomy
  2. enabling technologies and strategies to engineer net-zero or negative carbon utilization pathways.

For more information, visit the Interactive Poster Session and Open Technical Session web pages. Register for Bioeconomy 2017 now or through June 9 for our early bird price!

GBTL Technology for Liquid Hydrocarbon Production
March 1st, 2017

To supplement the demands of petroleum fuels and chemicals using existing infrastructure of engines, pipeline and fuel delivery, it is logical to target producing compatible hydrocarbons from biomass resources. Bio-oil produced from biomass fast pyrolysis technology can be converted into hydrocarbons. However, this conversion process remains a major challenge due to the instability of bio-oil, making it challenging to store, transport and convert into useful fuels and chemicals. In addition, high oxygen content in bio-oil makes it very unstable. Oxygen must be removed and additional hydrogen must be added to maximize hydrocarbon production.

ajay kumarTraditional bio-oil upgrading usually involves extensive hydrotreating, which is energy intensive and costly. Hence, Dr. Ajay Kumar, Associate Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE), Oklahoma State University (OSU), collaborated with another OSU Professor, Dr. Allen Apblett from Chemistry, to demonstrate proof-of-concept of a novel natural Gas and Biomass to Liquids (GBTL) technology that will synergistically use biomass (e.g. switchgrass and eastern red cedar) and methane to produce liquid hydrocarbons that are compatible with existing infrastructure. Kumar’s research team used a synergistic reaction system consisting of activation of methane and deoxygenation of pyrolysis-derived volatiles with metal-loaded HZSM-5 catalysts.

“We found that methane GBTL-Kumarsignificantly improved the yield and selectivity for the formation of aromatic hydrocarbons in the bio-oil obtained from catalytic pyrolysis of biomass,” Kumar said. “Methane did not show effective improvement in the yield of aromatic hydrocarbons from cellulose and hemicellulose in the presence of molybdenum modified HZSM-5 catalysts, but significantly improved the aromatic hydrocarbons from lignin,” Kumar added.

Torrefaction pretreatment on switchgrass did not increase the aromatic hydrocarbon yield. “Torrefaction infavorably altered the biomass composition by reducing cellulose content while increasing lignin content. The aromatic hydrocarbon yield decreased as the torrefaction temperature increased from 230 to 270 oC,” Kumar said.

This project shows that direct co-conversion of biomass and methane with an appropriately designed catalyst leads to significant improvements in hydrocarbon yields. Kumar said, “the direct conversion of biomass pyrolysis volatiles and methane in a catalytic reactor is a unique approach that makes it possible to produce hydrocarbon fuels more efficiently than traditional pyrolysis-based refinery processes.”

Demonstration of the proof-of-concept through optimization and analysis of economic feasibility is underway. Dr. Kumar collaborated with two other OSU Professors from the Department of Agricultural Economics, Drs. Francis Epplin and Phil Kenkel, for this part of the study. Funding of this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through the South Central Sun Grant Program.

USDA-NIFA Supports Two Projects from Texas A&M University through the South Central Sun Grant Program
February 1st, 2017

Dr. Girisha Ganjegunte, Associate Professor, Texas A&M Agrilife Research at El Paso, Texas, and Dr. Bruce McCarl of Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, are the recipients of USDA-NIFA research grants through the South Central Sun Grant Program’s regional competitive grants program.

ganjegunteGirishaDr. Ganjegunte collaborates with Drs. Yanqi Wu (Oklahoma State University), April Ulery (New Mexico State University), Samuel Zapata (Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service), Genhua Niu and Juan Enciso (Texas A&M Agrilife Research) to conduct a study on “Developing Alternative Water Sources for Bioenergy Crops Production on Marginal Lands”. This study aims to evaluate the effects of marginal quality water irrigation on the performance of switchgrass, biomass sorghum, and canola as well as on irrigation use efficiency and salinity.

Another grant awarded will model McCarl-Band analyze the logistics of supplying biomass for biofuel and biopower. This project is led by Dr. McCarl in collaboration with Drs. Stephen Searcy and Neil Geismar (Texas A&M University) and Dr. Jeffrey Vitale (Oklahoma State University). McCarl’s team aims to develop methods to improve efficiency of biomass supply chains with the goal of reducing final product cost by 15 % to make industries and bioenergy market penetration more viable.

Soil Health Remediation Potential Using Bioenergy Crops: Miscanthus and Switchgrass
January 25th, 2017

Degraded soils that are economically marginal and environmentally vulnerable are unsustainable with the current cropping systems. To attain sustainable production on marginal soils, new cropping systems that minimize long-term economic and environmental risks are needed to restore soil health and sustainability of these soils.

newell kitchenDr. Newell Kitchen, Soil Scientist of USDA-ARS, Columbia, Missouri, teamed up with coworkers at USDA-ARS: Drs. Ken Sudduth, Bob Kremer, Matt Yost, and Kristen Veum; Drs. Allen Thompson, Stephen Anderson, Ray Massey, and Brenton Myers (now with DuPont Pioneer) of University of Missouri; and Dr. Emily Heaton from Iowa State University to determine soil health remediation and production potential when growing miscanthus and switchgrass on marginal claypan soil.

Kitchen’s research team SPARC Plotsutilized the already-established Soil Productivity Assessment for Renewable Energy and Conservation (SPARC) plots near Columbia, MO (See photo) for this project.

Kitchen’s group found that miscanthus rhizomes planted on eroded soils performed well. On eroded claypan soils, only about 30% of the time required N fertilizer to maximize Miscanthus yield.  Relative leaf chlorophyll concentration was found as an accurate indicator of fertilization need.

Switchgrass had greater water use efficiency (WUE), about 50% greater N recovery efficiency and about 50% less run-off compared to corn. In addition, soil hydraulic properties of the marginal claypan soils improved when switchgrass was grown (3% lower bulk density, 73% greater hydraulic conductivity, and 53% larger proportion of soil macro pores) compared to corn-soybean cropping system.

Kitchen’s group also determined that switchgrass planted on degraded soil with shallow topsoil had greater quasi-steady infiltration rate and field saturated hydraulic conductivity than row-crop management. “When our results were applied to 24-hour USDA NRCS Type II storm model, switchgrass enhanced estimated infiltration, reduced estimated run-off and decreased estimated water ponding time when compared to row crop management,” Kitchen said.

In terms of the production relative to the topsoil thickness of claypan soil (depth-to-claypan or DTC), net return was greater for corn and soybean over most DTC, while switchgrass was only able to compete on very shallow DTC (<5 cm). Conversely, ethanol production from switchgrass increased with greater DTC for drier than average years and with N fertilization.

“These findings will help farmers know where to grow perennial bioenergy crops instead of grain crops, especially on eroded claypan soils, in order to improve production and minimize negative environmental effects associated with perennial plant bioenergy production”, Kitchen said.

Funding of this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through the South Central Sun Grant Program.

Mushroom Pretreatment Promotes Lignin Degradation During Storage of Switchgrass
November 29th, 2016

Mark WilkinsDr. Mark Wilkins, former Professor at Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE), Oklahoma State University (OSU), collaborated with two other OSU faculty Drs. Michael Buser (BAE) and Stephen Marek (Entomology and Plant Pathology), and Dr. Julie Carrier from Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at University of Tennessee to investigate whether oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus, could be used to break down lignin in switchgrass in a controlled storage environment. The research team aimed to develop and optimize an integrated switchgrass storage fungal pretreatment system, which could aid in lignin degradation and reduce the severity of subsequent thermochemical pretreatment processes, which are necessary for preparing switchgrass from enzymatic hydrolysis.

Small square bales of “Kanlow” square bales set upswitchgrass were used to test the effect of fungal application on lignin degradation and sugar content during storage. Three different rates of oyster mushroom spores were applied to the switchgrass bales prior to storage in a moisture and temperature controlled laboratory. Degradation of lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose was monitored every 27 days during storage of bales with and without fungus applied.

Wilkins’ group found that the use of fungus promoted lignin degradation compared to controls in bales stored at 50% and 75% moisture content. However, significant degradation of cellulose occurred if switchgrass was stored with fungus for more than 55 to 60 days. “In order to preserve cellulose, fungal pretreatment should not continue beyond 60 days. The timing of storage is important since storing bales for more than two months resulted in significant loss of cellulose, which is the most valuable portion of the grass,” Wilkins said.  “In small bales, degradation of lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose occurred in control bales due to microorganisms already present in the bales, but degradation of lignin and hemicellulose was less than that observed in bales to which fungus was applied,” Wilkins added.

Wilkins’ group also added copper, manganese and glucose to switchgrass along with the fungus to determine if these supplements would improve lignin degradation by P. ostreatus as other literatures suggested that these supplements would boost lignin degrading enzyme activity.

“All of the supplements added decreased lignin degradation compared to no supplementation. This result indicates that all of the nutrients needed for fungal growth are present in switchgrass, and costly supplementation is not required”, Wilkins said.

Funding of this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through the South Central Sun Grant Program.

Enhanced Biofuels Production with Genetically Optimized Feedstocks using Multistage Pyrolysis
October 28th, 2016

Thermal processing of biomass is a rapid, low-cost method to produce bio-oil that can be refined to renewable transportation fuels. Major challenges in the utilization of bio-oil for producing biofuels include chemical complexity, acidity and instability. The goal of this work is to simplify biomass thermal product streams to make them more amenable to catalytic upgrading and subsequent use as fuels, optimizing carbon yields.

BartleyDr. Laura Bartley, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Plant Biology, University of Oklahoma (OU) together with Drs. Richard Mallinson and Lance Lobban (Chemical Engineering, OU) and Dr. John Mullet (Biochemistry and Biophysics, Texas A&M University) conducted a study to examine how chemically and physically altering switchgrass and sorghum biomass relates to yields of thermal products under two different temperatute regimes, torrefaction and fast pyrolysis.

This project successfully gathered detailed data on a set of compositionally diverse switchgrass samples and predicted the thermal pyrolysis products of switchgrass and sorghum collections. Bartley's Fig 1The team also distinguished among possible associations between composition and products by measuring the thermal products from selectively altered switchgrass biomass, specifically biomass that had been chemically pretreated with water, base, or enzymes and biomass that has been genetically modified to deplete S-lignin and hydroxycinnamates (HCAs) via down-regulation of the phenylpropanoid biosynthesis gene, COMT. Results showed that low S-lignin and low HCA switchgrass releases less methoxyphenols into the torrefaction product stream (Fig.1) but does not reduce overall carbon yields. These results provide new directions for improving thermochemical biofuel production by rendering the torrefaction product stream more acceptable to catalytic upgrading.

Funding of this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through the South Central Sun Grant Program.

 

USDA-NIFA Awards $750,000 for Five Research Grants through South Central Sun Grant Program
October 19th, 2016

U.S. Department of Agriculture- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) awards research grants through the South Central Sun Grant Program’s (SC-SGP) regional competitive grants program. A total of $750,000 is allocated to fund five projects from across the South Central region. This year’s grant provides support for multi-institutional and multi-state research, extension and education programs that are aimed at developing alternative biobased energy sources and products.

The grants awarded are as follows:

  • Butanol Production with High Yield and Carbon Conversion Using Novel Biocatalysts led by Hasan Atiyeh, Associate Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University.
  • Biochars from Excelsior Woody Biomass Residues for Improved Poplar Production led by Catherine Brewer, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering, New Mexico State University.
  • Cloud-based Decision Support System Integrating Biomass Quality, Uncertainty and Risk to Optimize the Production of Second-generation Biofuels led by Krystel Castillo, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas-San Antonio.
  •  Low temperature plasma gasification to utilize diverse carbonaceous feedstocks led by Ajay Kumar, Associate Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, Oklahoma State University.
  •  Heat and Drought Effects on the Oil Formation of Southern Great Plains Winter Canola led by Michael Stamm, Associate Agronomist (Canola Breeder), Kansas State University.

These research grants are indicative of USDA-NIFA’s continued commitment to enhance bioenergy and biomass research and development program through Sun Grant Program.

Today is National BIOENERGY Day
October 19th, 2016

To celebrate the 2016 National Bioenergy Day, join the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) today at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a Facebook Live tour of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility (IBRF). To watch the live broadcast and submit your thoughts and comments, visit EERE on Facebook today, October 19th, at noon. NRELThe IBRF enables researchers and industry partners to develop, test, evaluate, and demonstrate processes and technologies for the production of biobased products and fuels.

 

(Repost from DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office’s “Catch the Facebook Live Tour of the Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility on Bioenergy Day”. Photos courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.)

South Central Region Sun Grant Program Announces 2016 Request for Applications
December 9th, 2015

The South Central Region Sun Grant Program (SCR-SGP) announces its request for applications for 2016 projects that will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through the Competitive Grants Program of SCR-SGP. Pre-proposals for this solicitation are due on February 1, 2015.  Please see RFA details at www.sungrant.okstate.edu under “Funding Opportunities”.

USDA-NIFA Awards Grant to Support GBTL Technology for Liquid Hydrocarbon Production
September 3rd, 2015

Dr. Ajay Kumar, Associate Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater, OK, received a USDA-NIFA Center Award through the South Central Sun Grant Program to conduct a study on “Hydrocarbon Fuels, Chemicals and Intermediates from a Novel Biomass Pyrolysis Technology”. Dr. Kumar collaborates with two other OSU professors, Drs. Allen Apblett (Chemistry) and Francis Epplin (Agricultural Economics).

Kumar’s team will conduct this study to demonstrate proof-of-concept of a novel natural Gas and Biomass to Liquids (GBTL) technology that will synergistically use biomass (e.g. switchgrass and eastern red cedar) and methane to produce liquid hydrocarbons.

This project will directly contribute to the creation of compatible hydrocarbons from biomass in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals while supplementing the demands for petroleum fuels and chemicals.

Energy Department Announces $10 Million for Innovative Technologies for Bioenergy Technologies Incubator 2 Funding Opportunity Announcement
August 28th, 2015

Source: Energy.Gov/eere/bioenergy/articles/energy-department-announces-10-million-innovative-technologies-bioenergy

The Energy Department today announced up to $10 million in funding to advance the production of advanced biofuels, substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks and bioproducts made from renewable, non-food-based biomass, such as algae, agricultural residues, and woody biomass. This work supports the Energy Department’s efforts to make drop-in biofuels more accessible and affordable, as well as to meet the cost target equivalent of $3 per gallon of gasoline by 2022.

The Energy Department encourages industry to invest in the production of cost-competitive, advanced biofuels and bioproducts from renewable, abundant biomass. Advancing and commercializing cost-competitive biofuels will help the Energy Department work toward its goal of reducing current petroleum consumption in the United States by approximately 30%, and, in turn, enhance U.S. national security and reduce carbon emissions.

The funding announced today will support projects in two topic areas: Topic Area 1 awards (anticipated at 2–4 selections) will range from $1–$2 million and focus on the development of novel, non-incremental technologies that facilitate the goals of the Algae Program, but are not represented in a significant way in the current Algae Project Portfolio. Topic Area 2 awards (anticipated at 3–6 selections) will range from $1–$2 million and will focus on the development of novel, non-incremental technologies that facilitate the goals of BETO, but are not represented in a significant way in the current Terrestrial Feedstocks Supply and Logistics Program or the Conversion Technologies Program.

Learn more information about this funding opportunity and application requirements at theEERE Exchange website. An informational webinar for potential applicants will take place on September 2, 2015, at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

 

USDA Awards Grants to Regional Projects through South Central Region Sun Grant Program
March 17th, 2015

U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) through South Central Region Sun Grant Program awards grants up to $324,000 for three regional projects that aimed at enhancing perennial grass production and biomass conversion into biofuels. The funds will supplement research activities of three existing projects that resulted from the 2012 USDA-NIFA S.C.R. Sun Grant’s competition. The Integrated Award recipients are:

  • Dr. Laura Bartley of the University of Oklahoma (OU), Norman, will receive up to $110,000 to determine how chemically and physically altering sorghum and switchgrass biomass impacts production of biofuels using two‐stage thermal processing. This project will generate data and understanding of the relationships between plant structure and composition and yield, quality and refinability of bio-oil produced from switchgrass and sorghum varieties. This understanding will directly contribute to the development of optimal feedstock-conversion biorefineries. This project is a collaborative effort with Drs. Richard Mallinson and Lance Lobban (OU) and Dr. John Mullet (Texas A & M University).
  • Dr. Newell Kitchen of USDA-ARS and University of Missouri, Columbia, will receive up to $103, 962 to assess soil health remediation and production capacity of miscanthus and switchgrass bioenergy cropping systems on marginal and vulnerable soil landscapes in Missouri and Arkansas. Knowledge gained from this research will quantify the effects of switchgrass and miscanthus on soil health and biomass production, and will generate several bioenergy crop best management practices (BMPs). Dr. Kitchen is collaborating with Drs. Kenneth Sudduth, and Kristen Veum of USDA-ARS, Dr. Emily Heaton (Iowa State University), Drs. Robert Kremer, Allen Thompson, Brenton Myers, and Ray Massey (University of Missouri).
  • Dr. Mark Wilkins of Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater, will receive up to $110,000 to develop a practical and low cost handling and pretreatment protocols that enhance the enzymatic digestibility of polysaccharides that are contained in cellulosic feedstocks while minimizing concentrations of generated inhibitory sugar and lignin degradation products. Researchers expect to: 1) reduce pretreatment severity and energy use while achieving fermentable sugar yields, 2) reduce production of inhibitory compounds, and 3) develop operating parameters and techniques to apply fungal pretreatment during switchgrass storage in a biorefinery setting. This project is a joint effort with Dr. Julie Carrier (University of Arkansas), and Drs. Michael Buser and Stephen Marek (OSU).
Energy Department Announces $7 Million to Develop Advanced Logistics for Bioenergy Feedstocks
December 4th, 2014

The Energy Department announced today up to $7 million for two projects aimed at developing and demonstrating ways to reduce the cost of delivering bioenergy feedstocks to biorefineries.  Examples of bioenergy feedstocks include corn stover, switchgrass, and woody biomass. By investing in this type of research, development, and demonstration, the Energy Department is supporting the production of renewable and cost-competitive biofuels. The projects, located in New York and Tennessee, will focus on developing advanced machinery for efficient and low-cost harvesting, collection, and transportation of high-quality bioenergy feedstocks.

  • The State University of New York—College of Environmental Science and Forestry of Syracuse, New York will receive up to $3.5 million to lower the delivered cost of short rotation woody crops; rapidly, accurately, and reliably assess feedstock quality; and improve harvest and preprocessing operations to produce feedstocks that meet key biorefinery partner specifications.
  • The University of Tennessee of Knoxville, Tennessee will receive up to $3.5 million to study how blending feedstocks could play a role in increasing the amount of available feedstock within a given delivery radius. The project will develop and demonstrate a state-of-the-art biomass processing depot to reduce sources of variation along the supply chain of multiple, high-impact biomass sources (pine and switchgrass) and deliver a consistent feedstock optimized for performance.

Source: energy.gov/eere/articles/energy-department

 

 

USDA Supports Sun Grant Program for the Next 5 Years
August 31st, 2014

The 2014 Farm Bill provided the authorization to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in establishing the Sun Grant Program (SGP) through a competitive grant process. The existing five Centers formed a consortium to compete for the opportunity of continuing as the SGP.  The consortium was awarded the 5-year, approximately $2.3 million per year program.  Continuing the existing Centers’ practice, 75% of the grant funds received will be used to provide competitive grants within each region. These grants will be multi-institutional and integrated, multistate research, extension, and education programs on technology development and technology implementation and address bioenergy, biomass, or bioproducts research priorities.  Of the remaining funds, 21% will be used to develop bioenergy research leadership and programs at each Center. The South Central Center, Oklahoma State University, anticipates the next regional RFA will be released fall 2015.