This project involves a team of university and industry partners led by the LSU AgCenter, studying the regular production of biomass for economically viable conversion to biofuels and bioenergy using existing refinery infrastructure. Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project will use energycane and sweet sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries.
The United States Department of Agriculture made a $17.2 million award through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI's sustainable bioenergy challenge area targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and biobased products that contribute significantly to reducing dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are compatible with existing agricultural systems.
- Determine dollars per acre to be sustainably earned by a farmer for each feedstock.
- Study dollars per gallon of fuel (or per pound of chemical) paid by the consumer.
Expansion of energycane and sweet sorghum beyond traditonal boundaries.
- General and specific adaptability to climate and soil conditions.
- Economical yield of carbohydrates and fiber.
- Cold tolerance.
- Pest resistance.
- What traits need to be enhanced based on the desired products?
- Extension breeding, selection, and testing program for energycane and sweet sorghum to find genotypes adapted to the southeastern United States.
- Feedback from processors of fuels/chemicals to breeders.
Experienced group of crop specialists with extensive knowledge of production of energycane and sweet sorghum:
- LSU AgCenter
- Absence of nonproprietary experimental facilities next to growing areas for processing variable feedstocks into multiple products.
- Sugars derived from various crops are not available for testing of conversion technologies.
- Use and expansion of existing regional pilot and industrial facilities to demonstrate production of gasoline, jet fuels, butanol, isoprene, and bioplastics.
- Demonstrated ability to operate polit facilities for biomass-related projects with leading conversion companies and scale-up of pilot data.
- Existing working relationships with industrial partners.
Economics and Business
- Shortage of technology viable and scalable processing scenarios for production economics of various fuels and bioproducts.
- Absence of verifiable information on production costs of alternative feedstocks.
- Need for reliable price discovery mechanisms for feedstock crops to aid producers in production planning.
- Business marketing scenarios will be developed based on inputs from agricultural research and techno-economic analyses.
- A group of agriocultural economists with proven track records of modeling the business scenarios for row crops in the Southeastern United States.
- Convincing growers and landowners to consider production of unfamiliar crops.
- Absence of extension agents familiar with biofuel production.
- Extension/research training meetings.
- Producer/landlord training meetings.
- Demonstration research plots.
- eXtension, electronic newsletters, outreach programs, social media and press releases.
- Efficient extension network at regional universities dealing with similar crops.
- Few specialists with diverse knowledge base in biofuel production.
- Shortage of coordinated programs to train workforce.
- Develop and expand educational programs (Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees, professional certification for field workers) at the consortium universities to support sustainable biofuel production.
- Organize a hands-on training center in biofuel processing operations.
- Distance learning tools will be extensively used to broaden the outreach.
- Consortium universities are well positioned to broaden the outreach.
Agricultural and environmental research will be validated across the Southeast.
Pre-processing and transportation methodology and models are broadly applicable.
Processing/conversion and carbohydrate quality targets will be established. Biomass samples from various regions will be evaluated.
Engineering data is scalable and transferable depending on the regional infrastructure.
Economics team involves experts from across the Southeast.
Education and extension components will have applicability within and beyond selected regions.
Industry and University Partners
To carry out the project, AgCenter scientists are partnering with several companies in the biofuels business:
- A Wisconsin-based company, Virent Energy Systems (gasoline, jet fuels, and diesel chemicals).
- Three California-based companies--Danisco/Genencor (isoprene), Optinol (butanol), and Ceres (seed for sweet sorghum crops).
- John Deere based in Louisiana (harvesting equipment technology).
- Florida Sugar Cane Growers Coop (biomass drying).
- MS Processors out of Minnesota (sugar engineering).
The diversity of industry partners is one of the reasons the AgCenter won the grant over more than 60 other universities.
Universities that are partners in this grant include Southern University, Texas A & M University, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Morehead State University in Kentucky, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Also the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Research Unit is a large partner working with the project providing seed stock.
Life Beyond the Project Period
The established program will continue operating beyond the five-year period and serve as a centerpiece for research, education, training, and extension. The program will fold into the Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing (LIBBI) which Don Day directs.
It is anticipated, the universal pilot facility will become either partially or completely self-sufficient from the revenues generated from the private sector.
An important outcome of the project will be creation of commercial facilities in the Southeast U.S. by our industrial partners, ensuring the project achieved its goals.