$4.4 million fuels new bioenergy education program at OSU

Oregon State University has been awarded $4.4 million for a bioenergy education program, funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant will establish research-based undergraduate, master’s, and high school enrichment programs through OSU, part of a larger project announced today to reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign oil through the production of sustainable bioenergy.

This is part of a $40 million project to prepare the Pacific Northwest to meet bioenergy goals using woody crops that are available and appropriate to the region, according to Kate Field, director of the Bioresource Research Program at OSU. The education component will provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to advance bioenergy and integrate it into the region’s economy.

“OSU was a natural choice to lead this new direction in education,” said Field, who will head the initiative. “We already have an excellent research-based undergraduate biosciences major, a strong professional science masters program, and the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences program for pre-college science enrichment.”

OSU’s education grant is part of a $40 million regional coordinated agricultural project, a collaboration among industries, regional universities and Extension, administered by the University of Washington. Other OSU participants in the project include Steve Strauss, distinguished professor in OSU’s College of Forestry, who will receive funding for research on hybrid poplar genetics. Another $40 million grant for related research was also announced today, in a consortium administered by Washington State University.

The educational project is tied to a new hybrid poplar-based facility to convert biomass into fuels such as ethanol and jet fuel. The facility, in Boardman, Ore., is being developed by Greenwood Resources and Zeachem, Inc.

“When the facility is fully operational, it will also be able to use a variety of our region’s biomass, like straw, cornstalks, sawdust and wood slash,” Field said. “The bioenergy education program will allow students to work on developing this and other kinds of regionally appropriate alternative fuels and bioenergy businesses, benefiting Oregon and taking advantage of expertise at OSU.”

Field said that OSU will start admitting bioenergy students and awarding scholarships next winter, to start in fall term 2012. Collaborators on this initiative included Ursula Bechert, director of the professional science masters program, OSU SMILE director Rick Collay, and other OSU faculty.

~ Dave Stauth

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