Running on willows: ESF awarded grant to develop Northeast biofuels industry

Micah Benson | Art Director

The United States Department of Agriculture awarded SUNY-ESF a $10-million grant to help develop the Northeast biofuels industry.

The grant will establish the Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium, a network of universities, businesses and governmental organizations that will work together to develop biomass, or organic material, supply chains, according to an Oct. 19 State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry news release.

The consortium will focus on the use of willow, miscanthus and switchgrass, and also address crop genetic development, harvesting, storage and processing techniques and sustainable production systems, according to an Oct. 16 National Institute of Food and Agriculture news release.

“The goal is to develop biomass businesses along every step of the way, from the growers who produce it to the companies that harvest and process it, all the way from the farm to the conversion into biofuels that are used by the consumer,” said Timothy Volk of ESF, assistant director of the new consortium, in the ESF release.

The grant is the sixth of its kind to be awarded nationally, according to the ESF release.

The grant will help ESF continue to develop the shrub willow as an alternative, sustainable energy resource. ESF has been working with more than 20 different organizations for almost 20 years to develop willow crops and other woody biomass into bioenergy and bioproducts in the Northeast and Midwest United States, according to the ESF website.

The funding is part of a larger effort by the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to develop regional renewable energy markets, create rural jobs and decrease dependence on foreign oil, according to the ESF release.

The consortium will help commercialize the years of research that has been done in studying the use of biomass as a sustainable energy source, according to the ESF release.

“It’s going to take the research and development work that has been done and move it to the commercialization phase,” Volk said in the ESF release. “It will enable businesses to apply the research and begin to grow a new economy.”

Four ESF faculty members are involved in the project and will do research on sustainability, logistics and social science, according to the ESF release.

Pennsylvania State University will be the lead partner in the new grant, and several other colleges and organizations are also involved, according to the ESF release.

The new project will be an important step in developing biomass as a sustainable energy source, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in the ESF release.

Said Vilsack: “Overall, the six regional systems supported by USDA and the Obama administration represent an opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by building the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry.”


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