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University of Minnesota awarded grants to advance biofuels research

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was recently awarded three grants, each worth approximately one million dollars, to research the biofuels production process along with co-products that can help enhance the value of the bio-based economy. These grants were awarded by the U.S. Department Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) which targets the development of regional systems for the sustainable production of bioenergy and bio-based products. Here is a quick overview of the three projects:

• A study of how diversified bioenergy cropping systems -- perennial crops such as grasses and woody plants -- can improve biological control of pests such as the soybean aphid. The project, led by agronomy and plant genetics associate professor Gregg Johnson, is intended to help provide more information for decision-makers about biomass cropping systems design, placement and influence on the surrounding landscape.

• An examination of how useful thermoplastics can be created from lignin, an important co-product from the conversion of biomass to biofuels. Professor Simo Sarkanen of the bioproducts and biosystems engineering department estimates that by 2030, biofuel production using lignocellulose will generate large quantities (more than 200 million tons per year) of lignin, which can be used for new kinds of polymers and plastics. An important focus of the work will be the development of effective plasticizers for these new materials.

• Research on how solid residues of bioenergy production could be utilized to generate nanofiber intermediates, binderless films and adhesives, converting a would-be waste residue into value-added co-products. The project is led by William Tze, an assistant professor in the bioproducts and biosystems engineering department.

William Tze was actually my academic adviser for my sophomore, junior, and senior year. It was wonderful to have an adviser who was an actual professor from the department to help me choose the classes that would best fit my career goals and interests! In addition, you can get involved in research that is happening in CFANS through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program!

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