The bioeconomy in the United States of America takes another relevant step forward, investing not only in the development of bioproducts but also in education and training. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday announced the availability of $21 million to support the development of regional systems in sustainable bioenergy and biobased products, as well as education and training for the next generation of scientists that will expand availability of renewable, sustainable goods and energy. This funding is available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
“This announcement marks the Obama Administration’s latest investment in the biobased economy, which pumps $369 billion into the U.S. economy each year and supports 4 million jobs in rural and small towns across the United States. Over the course of this Administration, America has more than doubled our renewable energy production, and today we import less than half our oil. We are saving money at the pump, bolstering national security by relying less on foreign oil, and combatting climate change with investments in technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide for cleaner air,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Today’s investment into regional production systems and the development of our next generation of scientists will have a direct impact on local economies now and set us up for a brighter, more innovative future.”
Established by the 2008 Farm Bill and re-authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, AFRI is the nation’s premier competitive, peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences. In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to true innovations and ground-breaking discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety. This round of funding is offered through the AFRI Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts challenge area, which creates or sustains jobs by enhancing existing food and fiber production systems, boosts ecosystems by reducing greenhouse gases and improving water and habitat quality, and provides renewable energy, chemical, and product options.
In fiscal year 2016, the Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts challenge area is soliciting applications that focus on the following priorities: Regional Bioenergy Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs), which support the production and delivery of regionally-appropriate sustainable biomass feedstocks for bioenergy and bioproducts. While the focus of CAPs will be on feedstocks, competitive proposals must present the feedstock development and production in the context of comprehensive regional sustainable bioenergy and bioproducts supply chain systems. Investing in America’s scientific corps: Preparing a new generation of students, faculty, and a workforce for emerging opportunities in bioenergy, bioproducts, and the bioeconomy.
To date, more than $237.2 million in research, education and extension grants have been awarded through AFRI’s Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Challenge Area, which have resulted in a number of outcomes in support of the bioeconomy. Alaska Airlines will be able to use 1,000 gallons of biofuel produced by Washington State University’s Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) in a demonstration flight in the near future. University of California-Davis researchers were able to map the genome of the loblolly pine, a potential non-food source for biofuel.
Secretary Vilsack has recognized the biobased economy as one of the pillars that strengthen rural communities, and as a result USDA helped jumpstart efforts to provide a reliable supply of advanced plant materials for biofuels. Through our Biomass Crop Assistance Program, for example, USDA is incentivizing more than 890 growers and landowners farming nearly 49,000 acres to establish and produce dedicated, nonfood energy crops for delivery to energy conversion facilities. To ensure those feedstocks are put to use, USDA has invested in the work needed to create advanced biofuels refineries. Under this Administration, USDA has supported efforts to build six new biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, North Carolina, and Iowa, in addition to three existing facilities in New Mexico, Michigan and Florida previously supported.
USDA has also worked to strengthen markets for biobased products. Approximately 2,500 products now carry USDA’s BioPreferred label, which helps consumers make informed decisions about their purchases, giving them assurances that their product was made using renewable materials, such as plants or forestry materials.