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Environment

New grants will help University of Minnesota researchers advance biofuels research

April 12, 2011

Three new grants to University of Minnesota scientists totaling nearly $3 million are part of a national effort to gain scientific information needed to support biofuel production and create co-products that will enhance the overall value of a bio-based economy.

The grants were awarded today by the U.S. Department Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and are part of a larger package of 42 similar grants in 28 states. The University of Minnesota's projects include:

• A study of how diversified bioenergy cropping systems -- perennial crops such as grasses and woody plants -- can improve biological control of pests such as the soybean aphid. The project, led by agronomy and plant genetics associate professor Gregg Johnson, is intended to help provide more information for decision-makers about biomass cropping systems design, placement and influence on the surrounding landscape.

• An examination of how useful thermoplastics can be created from lignin, an important co-product from the conversion of biomass  to biofuels. Professor Simo Sarkanen of the bioproducts and biosystems engineering department estimates that by 2030, biofuel production using lignocellulose will generate large quantities (more than 200 million tons per year) of lignin, which can be used for new kinds of polymers and plastics. An important focus of the work will be the development of effective plasticizers for these new materials.

• Research on how solid residues of bioenergy production could be utilized to generate nanofiber intermediates, binderless films and adhesives, converting a would-be waste residue into value-added co-products. The project is led by William Tze, an assistant professor in the bioproducts and biosystems engineering department.

Each project will receive about $1 million. The grants are awarded through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and bio-based products.

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