Mississippi State, Ohio State universities work to develop process to convert plant-based biomass into cost-competitive liquid biofuels, aided by US$6.5M USDA grant

STARKVILLE, Mississippi , January 25, 2013 (press release) – Part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant is funding research at Mississippi State University that will help develop a process to create a clean, renewable energy source.

Researchers at MSU and Ohio State University received $6.5 million to work together on the project. They plan to develop a process to convert methane gases produced from leftover plant materials, or biomass, into cost competitive liquid fuels that more closely resemble diesel and gasoline.

“Ohio State University created a process that turns unused agricultural byproducts, such as forest waste and manure, into a biogas that contains mostly methane,” said Fei Yu, an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. “We are working on developing the technology for the second step of the process that will turn the biogas into liquid transportation and heating fuels.”

The three-year project will help scientists understand which biomass products are most efficient at producing fuel. They will also look at the environmental and economic impacts of production. Industry professionals can use the study’s research-based data to evaluate commercial biogas production.

Jonathan Pote, head of MSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said this type of biofuel will soon be part of everyday life.

“Already there is a great deal of work going into commercializing this technology,” Pote said. “I believe that we will see this technology become a reality in five years or less.”

Scientists at MSU are also studying how to make other types of biofuels and the best technologies for harvesting, compacting and transporting biomass products to conversion facilities.

“Our scientists’ work in these areas will allow Mississippi to become a major biofuel producing state,” Pote said.

The USDA’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a segment of the agency’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, awarded a total of $25 million to several institutions committed to bioenergy research. Kansas State University, Ceramatec, Inc. and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service each received separate grants.

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