Texas A&M and Chevron form strategic biofuels research alliance

May 31, 2007
| By: Aubrey Bloom

The Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance and Chevron Corporation have entered into a strategic research agreement to accelerate the production and conversion of crops for manufacturing ethanol and other biofuels from cellulose. Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, Inc., will support research initiatives over a four-year period through the Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance, a formal partnership combining the collective strengths of the A&M System's two premier research agencies in agriculture and engineering - the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). The research initiatives will focus on several technology advancements to produce biofuels including, but not limited to: identifying, assessing, cultivating, and optimizing production of second-generation energy feedstocks for cellulose and bio-oils with a focus on non-food crops; characterizing and optimizing the design of dedicated bioenergy crops through advances in genomic sciences and plant breeding; developing integrated logistics systems associated with the harvest, transport, storage and conversion of bioenergy crops; and developing advanced biofuels processing technologies. "The Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance has a broad, holistic vision focused on developing practical, near-term solutions to bioenergy related problems, in addition to performing the necessary long-term fundamental research," said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering. "Forming an alliance with Chevron fits well with our research initiatives and allows us to leverage our strengths in biomass and biofuels to transfer new technologies from lab to the public, providing real solutions that are economical, sustainable and environmentally friendly." For instance, Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance partners in agriculture have developed exceptional high-yield cellulosic energy crops that can produce significantly more biomass per acre than most alternatives. "The development of biofuels from agricultural feedstocks requires a regional approach and research into many alternatives for the long-term energy needs of our country," said Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We have been able to capitalize on decades of existing research into sorghum, sugarcane, forage and oil-based cropping systems, which should provide us with premier, dedicated feedstocks for biofuels and renewable energy that are sustainable within existing agricultural production systems." Cellulose is an energy-rich carbohydrate that is the main structural component of green plants, found in the stems, stalks and leaves. One of the primary technical and scientific challenges of making biofuels from cellulose involves designing a low cost method for releasing sugar from cellulose that is bound in the plant cell wall for fermentation into ethanol or other biofuels. In addition to the Texas A&M agreement, Chevron¿s biofuels business unit has formed research arrangements with the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of California, Davis, and the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, which is a consortium of National Renewable Energy Laboratory, three major Colorado universities and other private companies The A&M System is among the largest systems of higher education in the nation. Through a statewide network of nine universities, seven state agencies, which include Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance partners TAES and TEES, and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System is uniquely configured to optimize the integrated development and design of cellulosic and oil-based feedstocks with emerging technologies and sustainable supplies of biomass to address biofuels and renewable energy. The Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance is integrating and focusing its broad-based resources to become a world leader in bioenergy. In the past two decades, faculty and staff researchers have worked on multiple feedstocks, biofuels and bioenergy projects. The Texas A&M Bioenergy Alliance is advancing this research toward demonstration projects and eventual commercialization, while accelerating the next generation bioenergy.

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