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$1.5 Million to Develop New Crop for Biofuels

06 August 2014

US - Colorado State University Bioagricultural Sciences Associate Professor John McKay has been awarded nearly $1.5 million from the US Department of Energy to develop a new crop for biofuels.

McKay, who also holds the title of Monfort Professor, and his team will focus on the plant species Camelina sativa, an oilseed feedstock crop that can be grown on less-than-ideal farmland with relatively low fertilizer inputs and limited irrigation.

Leveraging the newly available genome sequence of Camelina, this project will use forward and reverse genetics and natural variation to combine optimal qualities in Camelina as an oilseed feedstock for the Great Plains and western United States.

The grant was awarded by a joint DOE-U.S. Department of Agriculture program that began in 2006 focusing on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks.

The ideal biofuel feedstock crop requires less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

A total of $12.6 million went to 10 projects to researchers in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Virginia.

“This project is a collaboration with Kansas State University, University of Nebraska and University of California-Davis,” said McKay.

“Our proposed approach focuses on replacing petroleum-derived diesel fuel use in the agricultural sector with advanced oilseed based diesel fuels. The Great Plains and western United States have great potential to make a significant contribution to the production of bioenergy if regionally appropriate feedstocks can be developed.

"In this collaboration, we leverage this newly available genome sequence to facilitate genetic adaptation of Camelina as a crop to be grown on marginal farmland with relatively low fertilizer and irrigation inputs. Our research targets the most critical needs of this biofuel crop, enhancement of its drought tolerance and improvement of its seed oil profile.”

DOE’s Office of Science will provide $10.6 million in funding for eight projects, while USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.

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