Oregon's Sun Grant 'U' eyes energy independence

August 10, 2005

CORVALLIS – Oregon State University’s role as one of the nation’s leading centers of “bioenergy” research got a significant boost today when President George Bush signed federal legislation providing more than $8 million in funding for the Sun Grant Center at OSU.

The Sun Grant Initiative funding, which is part of the federal transportation bill, will be spread over four years and will largely go to university researchers and extension agents, governmental agency employees, private entrepreneurs and others in the West, including OSU faculty members, who submit successful competitive grant proposals.

“The potential benefits of research being conducted through the Sun Grant Center loom large, for our nation and the world,” said OSU President Edward Ray. “The fact that OSU’s selection as a national center has been followed so quickly with significant funding to further this work is a testament to the importance of that research and the faculty who conduct it.”

“Oregon’s congressional delegation worked tirelessly to help make this happen, and it’s going to be very good for the state,” said Thayne Dutson, the dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, which hosts the Sun Grant Center. “The Sun Grant Initiative is going to bring new money here, help stimulate and sustain our agriculture industry, and thus our economy, and give OSU an opportunity to develop even greater expertise in this important area of research in collaboration with scientists at other institutions in Oregon and other states.”

Last year, the federal government tapped OSU as one of the country’s five initial Sun Grant centers of excellence – regional hubs charged with leading research, education and outreach programs largely focused on the evolving field of bioenergy. That began an R&D initiative intended to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels, add diversity to American agriculture and revitalize rural economies.

For the Sun Grant Initiative, OSU will be the lead university representing nine western states, plus the Pacific Territories and associated Pacific island nations. The university’s leadership for the initiative makes OSU one of only two universities in the nation, along with Cornell University, that are now designated as land, sea, space and sun grant institutions.

OSU faculty involved in bioenergy research ar­­e already focused on such projects as harnessing microorganisms to produce hydrogen, growing crops to make fuel for automobiles and heavy equipment, generating electricity and producing products like lubricants and pharmaceuticals that usually require petroleum.

Jan Auyong, assistant dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, is overseeing the western Sun Grant Center. A number of OSU projects relate to bioenergy and bioproducts, said Auyong, offering four examples:

  • Michael Penner, a food scientist, is studying how to convert agricultural residues, particularly straw, into energy and other bio-based products.

  • Bioengineer Roger Ely is conducting research needed to allow the production of hydrogen for fuel cells by microorganisms that use solar energy to split water.

  • Don Wysocki, an Extension educator at OSU’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center at Pendleton, is working with farmers and others to identify crops such as canola that can be grown and used in small crushing plants to produce biodiesel fuel.

  • David Hackleman and associates in OSU’s College of Engineering are developing reactor technology for the production of biodiesel fuel. They plan to build and operate a pilot-scale facility on campus, using waste grease from campus dining halls.

According to Dutson, OSU will form standing committees to help determine Sun Grant research needs and criteria for competitive grants. Members will include representatives of the agricultural and industrial communities in the West.

Other regional Sun Grant centers of excellence are at: Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; and South Dakota State University, Brookings.

There is more information about OSU’s Sun Grant activities on the Web at: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/research/grants_sun_2002.html

Author: Andy Duncan
Source: Thayne Dutson, Jan Auyong