Biofuels institute in hunt for federal funding

Richard Bogren, Russin, John

News Release Distributed 07/26/10

A proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is offering grants of up to $45 million for biofuels research, is in preparation as part of a new initiative in the LSU AgCenter.

The Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing, which was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents in December 2009, is focused on alternative, renewable and preferably biobased replacements for fuels and chemicals, according to John Russin, associate vice chancellor for research in the LSU AgCenter.

Russin called the new venture a “virtual institute. It has no building, no walls and no direct state support apart from some minimal faculty salaries and operational funds. It has no direct line in the budget.”

Existing faculty with existing research programs make up the institute, which will facilitate communication among scientists and encourage collaboration, Russin said.

The institute has established an internal board of directors and is recruiting an external industry advisory board of corporate partners and investment partners to help guide the research programs, he said.

“We want to focus on what the industry needs,” he said.

The initial goals of the institute are to develop an identity and solicit continued federal support that now includes funding from the agriculture department and the Department of Energy, Russin said.

He said one item on his five-year wish list it to steer a federal alternative energy laboratory to Louisiana to develop pilot plants to process biomass into fuels and chemicals.

“Louisiana has the capacity to plant, grow, harvest and transport biomass crops,” Russin said. “This production capacity and infrastructure are not available in many other states.”

Louisiana has several sugar mills that process the sugar crop from October through December and then stand idle for the next nine months, Russin said. “This offers the opportunity to develop a year-round approach for processing.”

He said that with appropriate additional equipment, sugar mills could operate throughout the year producing fuels and chemicals from crops such as newly developed energy cane, sweet sorghum and switchgrass in addition to sugarcane.

“Whatever we do with these biomass crops has to be affordable,” Russin said. “We can produce biofuels, polymers and specialty chemicals from cellulose and other plant parts.”

While current programs hold promise, Russin cautioned that continued research and development are necessary to produce viable products on an affordable, commercial scale.

“We can do things now in the laboratory that would take too much money to do in a plant,” he said.

Rick Bogren

1/4/2011 1:10:05 AM
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