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Biofuel

A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs.

Bringing up Better Biofuel

The idea of replacing fossil-based fuel, such as petroleum, with a renewable energy source is enough to get any environmentalist excited. Now, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have advanced a process to produce crude liquid fuel called “bio-oil” from agricultural waste. The bio-oil is produced by a process called “pyrolysis,” which involves chemical decomposition of plant and other organic matter at very high heat without oxygen.  This new technology for producing renewable fuels is called “tail-gas reactive pyrolysis” or TGRP.

The TGRP method might be considered a new generation of pyrolysis because it holds promise for processing and improving bio-oil as an intermediate product toward finished biofuel.

Tribal partnerships fuel sustainable aviation

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Alaska Airlines will conduct a demonstration flight in 2016 using 1,000 gallons of jet fuel made from forest scraps. 

The aviation biofuel was derived from twigs and small branches that would otherwise have been burned in slash piles after timber harvest. These forest residuals were provided by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe via the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance Tribal Partnership Program (NARA TPP).  TPP and other NARA partnerships are made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource.

The Grass is Cleaner on the Other Side

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Liquid fuel, charcoal, and electric power are all possible byproducts of biomass feedstocks. But what if there was a feedstock that not only produced bioenergy, but acted as a greenhouse gas “sink” as well? According to Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research, there is: bioenergy sorghum.

Each region contains locally generated biomass feedstocks, ranging from grains to animal byproducts. Sorghum is a group of grasses with about 30 species, which can be used in a variety of bioenergy production processes, like starch-to-ethanol, sugar-to-ethanol, and plants-to-bioenergy.

USDA-Funded Researchers Map the Loblolly Pine Genome

During the month of April we will take a closer look at USDA’s Groundbreaking Research for a Revitalized Rural America, highlighting ways USDA researchers are improving the lives of Americans in ways you might never imagine, including research into trees that could fuel new energy solutions.

A team of researchers led by the University of California–Davis has mapped the complete genome of the loblolly pine. And if you don’t think that understanding the genetic makeup of loblolly pine is a big deal, perhaps you cannot see the forest for the trees.

Loblolly pine, the most commercially important tree in the United States, is the source of most paper products in this country and 58 percent of timber. On the surface, that might be reason enough for the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to invest $14.6 million in 2011 toward science that could increase the productivity and health of American forests.

Secretary's Column: The Benefits of a Climate Action Plan for Rural America

This week, folks across the nation have come together with family and friends to celebrate America’s independence – and millions are enjoying the great outdoors.

That’s why this is an appropriate time to remember that we must protect America’s natural treasures for generations to come. A changing climate poses new threats to this goal – from an increased risk of severe wildfire, to more intense storms, to worse problems from invasive pests.

Tapping Renewable Energy Potential at Airports

Most people are familiar with the weekly summer ritual of mowing the lawn.  At best, the smell of fresh cut grass is appealing, but often the task is considered time consuming, tiring and expensive.  What if your “lawn” was actually hundreds of acres in size, and how often you mowed it, what type of grass you had, and if you used pesticides greatly impacted the safety of nearby residents?  “Mowing the lawn” is just one of the tasks airport managers and biologists confront as they work to keep wildlife away from runways and aircraft.

Renewable Energy Means Jobs for Americans

Biofuels – fuel from plant materials – may hold only vague meaning for many Americans.  But they are an opportunity our nation cannot afford to pass up.

When mixed with the gas that powers our cars and trucks, biofuels saved drivers almost 90 cents per gallon at the pump last year.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Highlights USDA’s Efforts to Expand Aviation Biofuels at the Paris Air Show

 

On Wednesday in Paris, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack earned the distinction as the first U.S. Agriculture Secretary to attend a Paris Air Show, the largest gathering of the world aerospace industry. The Secretary spoke at the Alternative Aviation Fuels Showcase to a crowd of about 75 aviation business leaders about how USDA is among the forefront of U.S. federal efforts to support the development of bio-based fuels. USDA has established memoranda of understanding with several government and aviation-related agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Air Transport Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Navy, on efforts to research and develop renewable energy and the infrastructure to support it.