Bioeconomy, Bioenergy, Bioproducts

Strengthening Bio-Based Systems to Support Our Nation’s Energy Independence

THE BIOECONOMY-BIOENERGY-BIOPRODUCTS SCIENCE EMPHASIS AREA supports the expansion of regional production systems for biofuels and bio-based products. Non-carbon-based fuels, power sources, and chemicals are just a few of the products resulting from this portfolio’s research, demonstration, extension, and education programs. These programs foster rural economic development, mitigate the impacts of climate variability, improve wildlife and pollinator habitat, reduce GHGs, and improve water quality and food and energy security. NIFA collaborates with and leverages the resources of other federal agencies, such as U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Biomass Research Development Initiative (BRDI), and private sector investments to achieve the objectives of this portfolio.

Beetle-killed Trees Producing Biofuel



Developing, implementing, and supporting sustainable energy sources is one of USDA’s top priorities. NIFA-funded researchers from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, developed a way to produce a renewable fuel called bio-oil from agricultural and food waste. A key part of this bio-oil production project is a new high-output mobile processing unit that was funded by NIFA. The mobile reactor travels from farm to farm, converting biomass into energy-dense bio-oil right on the farm, eliminating the need to ship agricultural waste to refinery plants at high cost.


Tire manufacturing in America will reach a milestone in mid-2017 when Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, in Findlay, Ohio, will produce a tire made with guayule-based polymers rather than natural and synthetic rubber. Guayule is a shrub that grows in the American Southwest  and contains an alternative to the natural rubber used to process tires. The tire, which is 100 percent guayule-based, will undergo extensive technical trials following its production. The company will continue studies regarding the commercial distribution of the tires. Cooper has completed a number of pilots that include the replacement of both natural and synthetic rubber with guayule in various components, and testing each build for maximum durability. The project, which NIFA funded with a $6.8 million grant, will replace petroleum-based materials in tires, produce renewable fuels from biomass, and create green jobs in agriculture and manufacturing. Project partners included Cornell University, Clemson University, and ARS.


South Dakota State University collaborated with Agrisoma Biosciences, Inc., and the SD Oilseeds Council to develop an oilseed crop, Carinata, to be used for production of bio-based jet fuel and diesel for the U.S. Navy. Carinata, which has the potential to be used as a 100 percent petroleum substitute  in biodiesel, bio-jet fuel, oil additives, and specialty lubricants, can reduce dependence on petroleum-based products. The NIFA-funded project specifically gives farmers in semi-arid and arid areas the potential to transform the economy of their regions.


Infestations of pine and spruce bark beetles has led to widespread tree death in coniferous forests across the Rocky Mountains over the past decade, with about 42 million acres of U.S. forests impacted since 1996. The resulting beetle-killed wood represents a vast bioenergy resource that requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly-favorable carbon balance compared to other forestry feedstocks. Cool Planet Energy Systems’ proprietary technology and advances in modular thermochemical conversion enable them to produce gasoline and jet fuel from wood chips, and other organic waste and could significantly reduce the potential for forest fires. Cool Planet’s work falls under the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies (BANR) at Colorado State University, which brings together scientists, educators, and extension specialists from universities and government agencies across the region to research the use of insect-killed trees for the production of biofuels and biochar.


Switchgrass is an environmentally-friendly plant that provides cover for wildlife, forage production, and erosion control, and can absorb pesticide residue from the soil. Baled switchgrass can be a cost-effective alternative to cordwood or propane for heat production on farms or supplement coal in municipal power plants to reduce GHG. NIFA-funded research at University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Farm shows that baled switchgrass has about the same British thermal unit output and burn duration as cordwood, per equal weight but with significantly less ash residue and carbon emissions. Switchgrass has an advantage over other alternative crops because it is a perennial that also returns nutrients back into the soil and can produce 25 tons of crop per 100 acres.