Cornell Launches Research on Plant Biomass

Awarded more than $8.2 million in federal funding over four years through the recent signing of the federal Transportation Bill, Cornell has been tapped by the federal government as one of five Sun Grant Centers of Excellence — regional hubs that will take the lead in researching the use of plant biomass in energy and chemical production.

The grant will assist in soliciting and funding proposals that focus on using renewable agricultural resources to produce heat, electricity, biofuels, natural products, such as biopesticides and bioherbicides, and industrial chemicals. “With our global community entering a less certain oil future, over the next 10 to 25 years, there will be a major transition to agricultural-based bio-industries,” said Larry Walker, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell and director of the institute. “Genomics, nanobiotechnology and breakthroughs in molecular biology, genetics and biological engineering have opened up a broad spectrum of opportunities and challenges for manipulating microbial and plant systems.” The Northeast Sun Grant Initiative will focus on biopower — energy produced from renewable biomass for heat and electricity; biofuels — liquid and gaseous transportation fuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel, made from biomass resources; and bioproducts — chemicals and materials that are traditionally made from petroleum-based resources but will be made from biomass. Initiatives will involve feedstock development, conversion processes, systems integration and biomass public policy issues. The Sun Grant centers will promote both the development of bio-based energy technologies and environmental sustainability, boosting economic vitality and diversity of rural communities, said Walker. With more than 400 life scientists at Cornell, a multitude of bio-energy and bioproducts projects are already under way on campus. Many Cornell graduate students are involved in carrying out these research activities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Multidisciplinary Graduate and Education Training Program for bio-based industries. Courtesy of Susan S. Lang Cornell University News Service
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