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Texas AgriLife Research Bioenergy Program

The production of microalgae for fuel has a positive impact on the environment and does not compete for land traditionally used for food and fiber production. Moreover, the demonstration of successful commercial microalgae production would benefit the Permian Basin and other regions of the country by bringing beneficial economic impacts to rural and urban areas through job creation, farm construction, and operations.

Recently, Texas AgriLife Research was named a component of a $49 million, multi-institution, multi-state consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct algae research and development for commercial, domestic biofuel production. The additional funding was awarded in part as a result of research advancements at the Pecos facility and expands the scope of study to include algal coproducts, such as feedstock for the livestock and mariculture industries.

Strategic Approach:

Energy Independence
Energy efficiency, new energy systems, conservation, advanced conversion processes and biofuels are all part of the equation for energy independence. Through innovative, science-based programs, expertise, infrastructure, and partnerships, the Texas AgriLife Research Bioenergy Program is leading the way in developing new alternative fuel solutions. Beyond the efforts in algae research for fuel, our research in bioenergy and bioproducts spans the full range of discovery, from developing high-tonnage biomass plants at the molecular level to more efficient processes in the manufacturing of biofuels, investigating potential harvesting methods, transportation for bioenergy production and the environmental aspects, and comprehensive economic analyses. The program also incorporates research project management facilitating faculty research.

High Yielding, Cost Effective, Sustainable
Agrilife Research takes a strategic approach in developing feedstock crops that need not displace or compete with food or feed production. Lignocellulosic feedstocks, which include high-tonnage sorghum, energy cane, and next-generation energy grasses, have been developed specifically for high-yield biomass for bioenergy. With demand for higher yield feedstocks, we are focusing research on economically sustainable second-generation oilseed crops for biofuel (diesel and jet fuel) and bioproducts production. These crops are varied and include perennial and annual oilseeds, such as jatropha, castor, cottonseed, and sunflower.

The high oil content of microalgae garners interest for production of jet fuel and other bioproducts. AgriLife Research operates an algae research and development facility in Pecos, Texas. The facility provides opportunity for in-depth research and development to evaluate and demonstrate algae production, harvesting techniques, and production systems for improved biomass accumulation and commercialization efforts. Algal projects at the AgriLife Research Mariculture Laboratory in Corpus Christi are designed to establish and optimize a cost-effective prototype system for high-density microalgae in open systems (raceways) using seawater and flue gas carbon dioxide captured from power-generating plants. In production, large-scale microalgae systems annexed to power-generating plants could effectively reduce carbon dioxide emissions while producing a range of high-value products.

Biofuels production profoundly affects the world of agriculture. Securing the supply of biomass economically and in an environmentally sustainable method, creating value-added coproduct streams, and improving delivery logistics are key to a successful agriculturally based bioenergy industry. AgriLife Research’s holistic approach involves:

  • improving the genetics of lignocellulosic and oilseed crops through conventional and molecular approaches
  • developing agronomic practices for sustainable production systems under diverse conditions,
  • using modeling to determine economic and sustainable production areas and screening and characterizing land for biomass production,
  • developing production logistics to efficiently produce, harvest, transport, and store biomass 24/7/365
  • optimizing microbial/enzymatic systems to facilitate more cost effective conversion,
  • enhancing effectiveness of cellulosic and thermal conversion technologies to improve biofuels economics
  • evaluating sustainable economic, policy, and environmental approaches.

Bioenergy Initiatives and Scope:

  • Feedstock Crops
    • Sorghum, energy cane, grasses
    • Oil crops
    • Algae
  • Modeling
    • Develop, screen, and characterize land for biomass production
    • Models (farm, region, national, global)
    • GIS
    • Satellite imagery
  • Agronomic Practices
    • Develop agronomic practices for sustainable production systems.
  • Production Logistics
    • Production
    • Harvesting
    • Transport
    • Storage
  • Microbial/Enzymatic Systems
    • Screening and optimization of microbes and enzymes
    • Develop new conversion systems for liquid fuels
  • Conversion Technologies
    • Cellulosic
    • Thermal (Fluidized bed gasifier/pyrolysis)
  • Economic, Policy, and Environmental issues
    • Production economics
    • Energy balance
    • Life cycle cost analysis
    • Farm Bill/Energy Bill
    • Air, water, and rural infrastructure
    • Carbon issues

Bioenergy Program Contacts:

Bob Avant
Program Director, Bioenergy Program and Corporate Relations
Texas AgriLife Research
100 Centeq Bldg. A
College Station, TX 77843-2155
979.458.2155 (fax)

Shay Simpson
Associate Director, Bioenergy Program and Corporate Relations
Texas AgriLife Research
100 Centeq Bldg. A
College Station, TX 77843-2155
Phone: 979.845.6315

Dr. Bill McCutchen
Associate Director
Texas AgriLife Research
113 Jack K. Williams Administration Building
2142 TAMU
College Station, TX 77803-2142
979/458-4765 (fax)