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MSU receives $ 1.7 million stimulus funding for biofuel sustainability

Phil Robertson, professor of crop and soil sciences. Image Courtesy of MSU News

Michigan State University (MSU) has received US $1.7 million in stimulus funding for research into biofuel sustainability.

MSU scientists will be working with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) to study the environmental benefits and consequences of producing cellulosic biofuel crops.

The US Department of Energy awarded a total of $8.1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to the center, which includes partners University of Wisconsin-Madison and MSU.

The money allocated to biofuel sustainability research will be used to study carbon cycling, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuel cropping systems and to develop more complex modeling technology.

“Quantitative models, together with the underlying field research, will allow us to design biofuel cropping systems that are both profitable and environmentally sustainable," said Phil Robertson, MSU professor of cop and soil sciences, who leads GLBRC sustainability research. "We need to ensure the crops we’ll be using for cellulosic energy do in fact contribute to climate stabilization and cleaner air and water, as well as provide biodiversity benefits such as habitat for birds and beneficial insects.”

MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station is the principal field site for GLBRC sustainability research. At KBS, researchers have established long-term biofuel cropping systems to provide detailed information on their productivity and environmental performance. MSU researchers are investigating energy yield, water use and carbon balance of different crops such as switchgrass, hybrid poplars and grass mixtures, including restored prairie.

As for the remaining stimulus dollars, the GLBRC will be using around $4 million to provide a new experimental core facility and computational resources to analyze and alter the structure of plant cell walls.

A new imaging platform provides a 2D nuclear magnetic resonance “fingerprint” of everything in the wall and will enable the development of chemometric methods which can inform research on optimal feedstock selection, predict biomass conversion efficiencies and aid in pretreatment and process optimization in transforming biomass into biofuel.

-   Katrice R. Jalbuena

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