Bioenergy: A Growing Field

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted August 12, 2011

Bioenergy is one of the lesser-acclaimed renewable energy sources.

Perhaps because it has stirred up too much controversy with environmentalists, upset by the amount of land it requires and its potential impact on food sources.

But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) just released an analysis of the nation’s potential for biomass feedstock, an update of a report from 2005.

Called the U.S. Billion-Ton Update 2011, the report covers a county-level analysis of potential for biomass expansion.

The goal of the analysis is to measure the nation’s capability to produce high levels of biomass without impacting other essential production.

And according to the Department of Energy:

“The baseline scenario in the newly released report shows that biomass resources could be increased from a current 473 million dry tonnes annually to nearly 1.1 billion dry tonnes by 2030, under a conservative set of assumptions about future increases in crop yield.”

The nation has the capacity for continued development in the field, and the DOE will continue to support research in order to facilitate expansion in the biomass industry.

Continued support was demonstrated on Friday, when the Department of Energy, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offered a total of $12.2 million in grants to 10 research groups for biomass development.

The grants will go specifically to studies of genomics research, as these groups attempt to determine genetic structure to increase yield, quality, and adaptability.

Arranged by Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy, a grant program put together in 2006, this biomass research grant is the largest offered since 2008.

$10.2 million will be provided by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to eight of the projects, and the other $2 million will be awarded by the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the remaining two projects, reports EcoSeed.

Research groups come from 9 universities across the nation and one non-profit organization.

The grants will support the projects for up to three years and will focus on the research of switchgrass, poplar, Miscanthus, the model grass Brachypodium distachyon, and other plants.

The Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center recently found a gene in a microorganism that controls ethanol production.

Additional research will be devoted to this particular gene. If ethanol production could be maximized in biomass plants, it would create a breakthrough in this renewable industry.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is optimistic about the industry:

“Biofuels, along with other advanced vehicle technologies, hold the potential to help reduce our oil imports while adding new jobs and driving wealth creation in rural America.”

Biofuels Digest listed its top 50 picks for biofuel companies for 2010 and 2011. The top 5 are Amyris (NASDAQ: AMRS), Solazyme (NASDAQ: SZYM), POET, LS9 (SIN: LS9), and Gevo Inc (NASDAQ: GEVO).

A breakthrough in research could mean a breakthrough for these or companies like these.

That’s all for now,


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