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MSU Receives $1.7 Million in Stimulus Funding for Sustainability Research

Michigan State University scientists working with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center will use $1,7 million in federal stimulus funding to study the environmental benefits and consequences of cellulosic biofuel crops.

The Department of Energy awarded a total of $8.1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to the center, which includes partners University of Wisconsin-Madison and MSU. About half of that money will be used to enhance and accelerate sustainability research, and the other half will research plant cell wall imaging technology.

The money allocated to biofuel sustainability research will be used to study carbon cycling, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuel cropping systems, as well as develop more complex modeling technology, said Phil Robertson, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences who leads GLBRC sustainability research.

"Quantitative models, together with the underlying field research, will allow us to design biofuel cropping systems that are both profitable and environmentally sustainable," he said. "We need to ensure the crops we'll be using for cellulosic energy do in fact contribute to climate stabilization and cleaner air and water, as well as provide biodiversity benefits such as habitat for birds and beneficial insects.

"The models, based on results from experiments in the field, will allow researchers and decision-makers to see possible answers to 'what if' questions about various biofuel crops in various landscapes."

MSU's Kellogg Biological Station is the principal field site for GLBRC sustainability research. At KBS, researchers have established long-term biofuel cropping systems to provide detailed information on their productivity and environmental performance. MSU researchers are investigating energy yield, water use and carbon balance of different crops such as switchgrass, hybrid poplars and grass mixtures, including restored prairie.

"Different crops also provide different kinds of habitats for birds and insects," Robertson said. "We're also studying the potential for cellulosic biofuels to provide biodiversity benefits such as pest control and pollination for plants and crops in other parts of the landscape.

"The general idea is to provide the information needed to design future biofuel cropping systems that provide environmental benefits rather than to simply mitigate potential harm."

As for the remaining stimulus dollars, about $4 million will be used to provide a new experimental core facility and computational resources to analyze and alter the structure of plant cell wall, the polymer-complex that provides the sugars for cellulosic biofuels, said Tim Donohue, GLBRC director and UW-Madison professor of bacteriology.

"The new magnetic imaging and associated computational resources will allow new approaches that are crucial for teams across the GLBRC," Donohue said. "The recovery act funding allows us to move rapidly and deploy a new, state of the art, approach to the cellulosic biofuels portfolio of the GLBRC and other DOE-funded centers."

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