USDA Funds Biofuels Research

SFR Leads on $40 Million Multiple-Partner Project

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $40 million to fund UW research in the development of biofuels, with SFR Professor Rick Gustafson serving as lead on the project.  He will collaborate with multiple public and private partners on an ambitious project emphasizing both the commercialization and sustainability aspects of producing biofuels.  The five-year award is one of the two largest biofuels awards announced by USDA—the other large award, to Washington State University (WSU) also for $40 million—includes UW collaboration, with SFR Professor Ivan Eastin serving as a co-investigator.

The award comes at a time when our nation is concerned about greenhouse gases and the economic consequences of reliance on nonrenewable fuel sources, but is struggling to produce targeted amounts of renewable fuel.  It provides a remarkable foundation for the UW’s stature as a national player in cutting-edge bioresource science and engineering research and for economic recovery in Washington State and the region. 

The university/industry partnership led by the UW will ready the Pacific Northwest for a 2015 introduction of an infrastructure-compatible biofuels industry targeting biogasoline and renewable aviation fuel. The project will focus on the commercial production of bio-based aviation, diesel, and gasoline fuels using plantation-grown poplars as feedstock.  Gustafson and his UW colleagues will focus on assessing the sustainability of the proposed enterprise to make sure there are no unintended consequences to the new, large system that includes biorefineries and hybrid poplar plantations developed by the project’s industrial partners, Greenwood Resources and ZeaChem, Inc. 

Education components include a WSU forest stewardship program, led by SFR alumnus Kevin Zobrist, to help small- to medium-sized landowners understand their potential role in supplying woody biomass for the new industry.  Other educational partners will train and educate workers—the success of the demonstration project over the next five year will result in as many as 1,500 direct jobs, mostly in rural areas. 

“Production of fuels and chemicals from biomass will be a huge industrial enterprise in the future,” Gustafson says. “It is essential that it be sustainable from an economic, environmental, and social point of view. The research lays the foundation for building a sustainable enterprise before large scale commercialization.”

For more information on the project and the USDA awards, see the UW press release, the USDA announcement, and Seattle Times coverage.

Professor Rick Gustafson and Assistant ProfessorRenata Bura talk in SFR's Biofuels and Bioresources Laboratory about using a high-pressure liquid chromatographer to measure sugars extracted from biomass and to analyze the characteristics of fuels and chemicals made from those sugars. Photo: University Photography.