Call for Coordinated Research on Bioenergy

Recognizing the important benefits biomass technologies can have on the environment, rural economies, and national security, the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 called for coordinated federal biomass research. The Act established the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee to help facilitate this coordination.

Washington, D.C. – August 11, 2003 [] As part of its responsibilities, the Committee makes recommendations on the strategic direction of research being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In order to fulfill this responsibility, the Committee recently requested and reviewed the fiscal year 2003 research portfolios of USDA and DOE as they relate to the Committee’s published “Roadmap for Bioenergy and Biobased Products in the United States.” Funding in the processing and conversion category includes significant amounts of funding for research in the area of biorefinery integration under the DOE-USDA joint solicitation, as well as USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS) Grant Program to increase the conversion of agricultural products to end-uses. While the processing and conversion category contains the majority of the funding, the Departments are performing significant research in each of the Roadmap activities. USDA funding in biomass feedstock production falls largely in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Forest Service (FS), and the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES). Research is focused primarily on improving biomass yield and quality, optimizing sivicultural practices, and feedstock handling. ARS centers are also researching sustainable crop management practices and improved harvesting and handling systems. Biomass funding at DOE is performed through the Office of the Biomass Program (OBP) and in terms of basic science, through the Office of Science. The OBP is looking to decrease the unit cost of raw materials and improve raw material quality. In addition, the program is supporting development of the Feedstock Infrastructure Roadmap and conversion of indigenous U.S. resources to produce environmentally friendly polymers and chemicals important to the U.S. economy. Processing and Conversion category of research includes R&D in thermochemical conversion and bioconversion technologies as well as biorefinery integration. OBP research is focusing on bioconversion technologies to process component sugars of biomass for the production of fuels and chemicals. OBP is also focusing on thermochemical conversion to convert biomass into sythesis gas, which can be used to create heat, power, or products. OBP is managing research with industry, universities, and labs to develop the integrated biorefinery. These research partners are developing processes to convert corn and other biomass resources into useful fuels and chemicals. The majority of USDA funding in processing and conversion is in the area of bioconversion. OBP focuses on reducing technical barriers that inhibit broader use of biobased products. This includes testing of biodiesel fuels as well as research and development on polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) polymers. In the USDA, ARS and FS are conducting research for the development of high-value products from woody biomass and for improving the performance of biodiesel from soybean oil. While neither the USDA nor DOE fund development of public policy, both agencies conduct analysis, support, and education or provide incentives, which contribute to the public policy strategies in the Committee’s Roadmap. For example, OBP is funding market and technical analysis of biomass technologies as well as funding state grants and the Federal Government procurement of bioproducts, education initiatives, and working with the USDA to accelerate Federal Government procurement of bioproducts through the BuyBio program. The majority of USDA funding in this category is through the Farm Service Agency, Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Bioenergy Program. This program was extended through the 2002 Farm Bill and reimburses eligible producers of commercial fuel grade biofuels, with fiscal year 2003 funding over $115 million.
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