BATON ROUGE, LA --- The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center has received the go-ahead from the Board of Regents to begin establishing the Louisiana Institute for Biofuels and Bioprocessing.
"This has moved us a step forward in our efforts to boost the biofuels business in the state," said John Russin, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor and institute director. "The institute puts a face on our biofuels research and will help us obtain grants."
Russin said the board's approval is conditional for one year, during which time the LSU AgCenter is to form an advisory board and set up the structure for expansion of bioenergy research.
"The LSU AgCenter made a major commitment about five years ago to funnel resources into bioenergy research because of the critical need," said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research. "Louisiana is uniquely positioned for production of biofuels because of our diverse agricultural and forestry production sectors."
One research focus at the AgCenter has been the development of new crop varieties high in biomass, which can be converted into biofuel. One of the AgCenter's accomplishments so far is the development of three sugarcane varieties, known as "energy cane," which are higher in fiber than regular sugarcane and yet produce raw sugar.
"These varieties serve a dual purpose -- as a source of sugar and fiber, which can be converted to ethanol," Russin said. "They offer the opportunity of new markets for our sugarcane farmers."
Scientists at the Audubon Sugar Institute, a research unit within the AgCenter located in St. Gabriel, have been conducting research on more cost-effective processes for converting the sugarcane fiber, known as bagasse, into ethanol. The scientists have received several patents for their discoveries. They are testing these processes in their laboratories for potential adoption by sugar mills in the state.
Another crop under investigation as a source for ethanol is sweet sorghum -- a high-fiber plant that's a cousin of grain sorghum but looks more like sugarcane. Its advantage is it can grow on marginal soils and can be harvested with the same equipment as sugarcane.
In north Louisiana, LSU AgCenter researchers are conducting experiments with switchgrass, a highly fibrous grass that grows quickly and can be grown amidst pine trees, allowing landowners to get more value from their land.
Other research projects under way include determining the biofuel potential from low-value trees, wood waste and the Chinese tallow tree.
A new area of research is finding ways to grow algae and extract biofuel ingredients. The LSU AgCenter has already been funded for two projects on algae this year, Russin said.
"Having this institute as sort of a one-stop shop will help strengthen our ability to bring in outside funding and broaden our research," Russin said. "This has tremendous potential for economic development in the state."