Board of Regents Proposal

John Russin, Gould, Frances I., Benedict, Linda F.  |  9/3/2010 12:35:09 AM

The following proposal was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents in December 2009.

Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing

The Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing will be a research, education, and outreach initiative within the LSU Agricultural Center. Through innovative discovery and strategic industry partnership, the Institute will provide a sound, science-based roadmap to support new biofuels and bioprocessing enterprises and prioritize pathways for mainstream integration of biorefining industries. It will link Louisiana’s strong agricultural base with emerging bioenergy initiatives, thereby expanding and strengthening our state’s role in developing novel energy sources and expanding the economic base for Louisiana crop producers. Biofuel initiatives, in turn, can facilitate development of secondary and specialty bioproducts industries, which would expand opportunities for economic development throughout Louisiana.

A. Objectives

i. Develop economically and ecologically viable technologies to produce biofuels, polymers, and specialty chemicals from agricultural crops in Louisiana.

ii. Prioritize directions for biofuel and bioprocessing efforts to ensure sustainability and compatibility with Louisiana agricultural industries.

iii. Facilitate information exchange and foster collaboration among stakeholders at all levels.

iv. Deliver technical expertise and science-based information to industry clientele, policy makers, and the general public.

v. Provide training and educational opportunities for professionals in emerging biofuels and bioprocessing industries.

B. Correlation with Institutional Role, Scope, and Mission

The Institute’s objectives mesh closely with those of the LSU Agricultural Center, which are “…to enhance the quality of life for people though research and educational programs that … enhance development of existing and new agricultural and related enterprises, develop human and community resources, and fulfill the acts of authorization and mandates of state and federal legislative bodies.” The philosophy of the Institute echoes that of the original Federal Legislative Acts, which is “…to promote scientific investigation and experimentation bearing directly on and contributing to the establishment of a permanent and effective agricultural industry.

  1. Rationale and Need for Center

Worldwide dependence on fossil fuels, coupled with emerging concerns surrounding global climate change, are driving development of alternative, renewable, bio-based sources for fuels and industrial chemicals. The paradigm shift from fossil-based hydrocarbons to plant-derived carbohydrates has created challenges for both the scientific and agricultural communities. Sustainability of these emerging industries will depend upon a well-developed, well-integrated agricultural infrastructure that can provide not only our citizens’ food needs but also necessary fuels, industrial chemicals, and biopharmaceuticals.

Louisiana enjoys a strong, diverse agricultural base. Its sub-tropical climate supports production of an exciting array of row crop and forest species, many of which have potential as raw materials for cellulose-based fuel and chemical enterprises. Further, the state is well-positioned to produce novel “energy crops”, such as high-fiber sugarcane and sweet sorghum. Such crop-production ability, coupled with existing industrial capacity for fuel and chemical processing, position Louisiana to be a strong player in the biofuel and bioprocessing arenas.

Whereas commercial-scale production of ethanol from starches and sugars is well developed, production of biofuels and specialty chemicals from second-generation sources such as cellulose is lagging. In response, the LSU Agricultural Center is developing technologies to produce biofuels, polymers, and specialty chemicals from cellulose associated with Louisiana crops, e.g., bagasse from sugarcane. Initial production of such biobased materials could occur at dedicated facilities or, more ideally, at sugar mills during their extended annual inactive periods, which would effectively convert these facilities into year-round “biorefineries.” This latter approach not only would generate desired biobased products from Louisiana feedstocks but also would enhance economic development within an existing Louisiana industry.

At present, Louisiana lacks a source for reliable, science-based information to support planning and decision-making by emerging biofuels and bioprocessing industries within the state. The proposed Institute will serve as this source and will help prioritize and coordinate research activities that will speed development and avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts. Further, the Institute will provide education and training opportunities for employees of emerging industries and for students and interns interested in careers in biofuels and bioprocessing. Finally, the Institute would facilitate information exchange and foster communication among policy makers, industry leaders, researchers, and all of Louisiana’s citizenry.

  1. Faculty

This initial listing comprises those who currently conduct biofuels and processing research, training, and outreach efforts within the LSU Agricultural Center.

A. Listing of Core Faculty Members

i. Audubon Sugar Institute
Ben Legendre, Professor and Head – bioenergy crop production, sugar technology
Giovanna Aita, Asst. Professor – microbiology, biomass conversion
Harold Birkett, Assoc. Professor – engineering design, energy studies
Donal Day, Professor – biotechnology, biofuels and byproducts
Vadim Kochergin, Professor – separation technologies, process design

ii. Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Dan Thomas, Professor and Head – instrumentation, modeling, water resources systems engineering
Dorin Boldor, Asst. Professor – biofuels, harvesting, handling
Michael Mailander, Assoc. Professor – biofuels, sensors, production systems
Chandra Theegala, Assoc. Professor – biofuels, gasification, separation technologies
Cristina Sabliov, Asst. Professor – nanotechnology, byproduct processing
Marybeth Lima, Assoc. Professor – processing and separation technologies

iii. Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences
Gary Breitenbeck, Professor – bioenergy crop production

iv. Renewable Natural Resources
Richard Vlosky, Professor – wood-based bioenergy

v. Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness
Mike Salassi, Professor – crop production economics

vi. Sugar Research Station
Kenneth Gravois, Professor and Coordinator – bioenergy crop breeding

B. Vitae of initial core faculty members are available in Appendix I.

  1. Facilities and Equipment

The LSU Agricultural Center has made substantial commitments to biofuels and bioprocessing research in the forms of faculty, staff, equipment, and infrastructure. Further it engages in ongoing efforts with the Louisiana federal delegation to ensure continued program support through Congressionally-Directed Special Research Grants. These commitments are anticipated to continue and expand following formation of the proposed Institute.

Whereas biofuels and bioprocessing research, training, and outreach occur in many units within the LSU Agricultural Center, the majority of efforts are housed within two departments: Audubon Sugar Institute and Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Both units have sufficient staffing and infrastructure to support robust, integrated, and collaborative programs in biofuels and bioprocessing.

Audubon Sugar Institute is located in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. The 27,000 ft2 research and development facility, well-equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and technology, contains six separate clusters, each of which is dedicated to specific steps in the research and development process pathway. The pilot plant houses large-scale equipment and machine and welding shops for fabricating unique equipment on-site. A key feature is availability of pilot-scale processing equipment for fermentation and separation that is rarely available at universities. The analytical laboratory operates an array of instruments to support the research programs in the biofuels and bioproducts areas. The fully equipped microbiology laboratory has a range of fermentation equipment, with systems ranging from bench- to pilot-scale. Strong relationships and good credibility with the Louisiana agricultural industry allow access to commercial production facilities (sugar mills, etc.) that will support rapid implementation of developed technologies.

Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering is located on the main campus in Baton Rouge and has laboratory and shop areas that can address biofuel and bioprocessing needs. One laboratory is fully functional using green technologies, with separate areas and instrumentation for gasification, material separation, pelletizing, and other research activities to enhance the processing and efficiency of biofuels. Other newly upgraded laboratories are dedicated to nano-particle development, commercial flow through microwave heating, supercritical fluid extraction, microwave extraction of bioactive components, and a pilot scale rice mill for oil extraction and milling studies. Fully functional shops, with metal and wood working capabilities and large working bays, support prototyping activities associated with harvesting, handling, and processing of biomaterials.

Additional research, education, and outreach efforts on biofuel and bioprocessing crops are ongoing in several additional units within the LSU Agricultural Center, including School of Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences, School of Renewable Natural Resources, and Sugar Research Station. Scientists in these units have superior capacity in genomics, breeding, production, harvesting, handling, and storage of annual and perennial biofuel and bioprocessing crops. Sufficient expertise, equipment, and infrastructure also are in place at LSU Agricultural Center facilities throughout Louisiana to support this research on all crops produced in the state, from sugarcane to trees. Additional expertise exists within Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness to provide economic support for decision and policy-making in these arenas.

  1. Administration

A. Center Organization

The Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing will function as a virtual institute “without walls.” Member scientists will be in different units within the LSU Agricultural Center but will collaborate on grant proposals, research projects, research prioritization efforts, graduate student and intern training, and education of policy makers and other stakeholders.

The Institute will be administered by a Board of Directors. Initially the Board will be comprised of three members. The Associate Vice-Chancellor, LSU Agricultural Center, will serve as chairman; other members will include department heads, or their designees, from appropriate units within the LSU Agricultural Center. The number of Board members will increase as scientists from other units become involved with the Center. We also envision an External Advisory Board that will contain members from partner corporations, economic development leaders, state agencies, key commodity groups, or other appropriate stakeholders.

B. Relationship with Other Organizations within Louisiana

In recent years the Clean Power & Energy Research Consortium (CPERC) has emerged in Louisiana with goals to address the broad area of clean power and alternative energy research. Using federal and state funds, this consortium supports programs from seven campuses of higher education: Louisiana State University and A&M College; LSU Agricultural Center; Nicholls State University; Southern University; Tulane University; University of Louisiana Lafayette; and University of New Orleans. Consortium-supported research topics addressed at each campus vary greatly and include: gas turbine technologies (LSU A&M, UNO); high-temperature materials (LSU A&M, Southern); microbiology and fermentation (Nicholls, Tulane); and algae feedstocks for biodiesel production (UL Lafayette).

Reviews of CPERC program initiatives and progress reported to date indicate little overlap with objectives of the Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing; rather this Institute could complement a number of CPERC programs. A unique attribute of the proposed Institute will be its ability to address all aspects of industrial development for new bioproducts from Louisiana crops: from biofuel crop development and production to optimum harvesting, handling, and storage; from processing to optimization for biofuel and specialty chemical production; and from product conceptualization through development to economic analysis and marketability. It will provide a resource for Louisiana to respond rapidly to the scientific, market, and political drivers for biofuel and bioproduct development in the United States and to apply a unique knowledge of Louisiana conditions and resources to this development.

Tentative First-Year Initiatives

The proposed Institute will begin a limited number of strategic initiatives during its first year of operation. These have been selected to enable progress toward overall objectives detailed in section I.A. Tentative initiatives follow in no priority order:

i. Initiate and develop electronic and printed materials (comprehensive web site, newsletters, brochures, etc.) to educate stakeholders, partners, and policymakers about professional expertise, research and development infrastructure, and opportunities for expansion in Louisiana.

ii. Provide more strong and clear identity to LSU Agricultural Center scientists in biofuels and bioprocessing research. This will aid efforts in competitive grant arenas by showing affiliation with a mission-specific organization.

iii. Facilitate effective information exchange among public and private partners. This will help prioritize directions for research and development efforts that are most promising for Louisiana.

iv. Develop annual conference with speakers from industry and academia. This will showcase Louisiana’s research and development strength in biofuel and bioprocessing arenas and will help stimulate partnerships.

v. Solicit ongoing federal support for Institute operations.

vi. Begin assembly of External Advisory Board.

  1. Budget History

Over the past five years, grant support received by LSU Agricultural Center scientists for biofuels and bioprocessing research has been strong. This funding has been anchored by continuing Special Grants from the United States Department of Energy (2009 - $951,200; 2008 - $984,000; 2007 - $495,000; 2006 - $496,000; 2005 - $490,251). This Special Grant support is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Biofuels and bioprocessing research received an additional Special Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (2009 - $437,263). Faculty members also have garnered support from an array of additional sources, including private corporations and agricultural commodity boards.

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