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UH Gets Federal Grant For Biofuel Research

Posted August 3, 2012, 06:17 PM HST
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Likely feedstock prospects include napier grass, also known as elephant grass. University of Florida photo.

Private companies like Aina Koa Pono aren’t the only ones looking for the perfect biofuel crop.

The federal government recently gave the University of Hawaii a $6 million grant to develop high-yielding biofuel feedstocks.

Researchers from Oregon State University and Washington State University will be among those joining UH in the four-year effort funded by the US Department of Agriculture.

The private sector is also involved in the effort. Also participating are ZeaChem, a Colorado-based ethanol company; Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, which operates a 30,000-acre sugar plantation on Maui –the only major one left in the state; and Grove Farm on Kauai, a former sugar plantation which is diversifying into residential, resort and commercial development.

According to UH, the project will study fast-growing tropical grasses such as bana grass, sweet sorghum, a relative of sugar known as energycane, and napier grass-pearl millet hybrids. The effort will include investigating harvesting and storage techniques and optimizing energy yields.

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Part of the project involves assessing the sustainability of renewable energy production in Hawaii, the university said.

Among the major markets for biofuels is the US Navy. Its Great Green Fleet initiative proposes to use 50% renewable energy for its ships and ground transport by 2020. The Navy and Air Force have already experimented with a biofuel-mix in jet aircraft.

The grant was one of 13 USDA projects nationwide providing $41 million for research into biofuels and feedstock.

“If we want to develop affordable alternatives for oil and gasoline that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we need investments like these projects to spur innovation in bioenergy,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

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