CORVALLIS - A national plan to better utilize agricultural products and technologies for energy and other non-traditional uses would turn Oregon State University into a "Sun Grant" institution and regional center for the initiative.
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the U.S. Senate majority leader, announced the plan, calling for a national consortium of centers within the nation's Land Grant system that would be led by South Dakota State University. This Sun Grant Initiative would create regional centers at OSU, the University of Tennessee, and Oklahoma State University. Two other regional partners would be added later.
These regional centers are aimed at developing research, teaching and Extension efforts in the use of agricultural products for energy and bio-based products, including plastics, lubricants, textiles, solvents and adhesives.
"This certainly is an area that is growing rapidly, yet we've only scratched the surface," said Thayne R. Dutson, dean of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the university's Agricultural Experiment Station. "There are ties to forestry, engineering and pharmacy, which dovetail nicely with Oregon State University's strengths."
A planning grant would allow the partnering institutions to develop the new Sun Grant system during the next year. Federal authorization and funding would be sought in October of 2002.
The Sun Grant Initiative, proposed by Daschle and leaders at South Dakota State University, is aimed at revitalizing rural communities and helping the U.S. address some of its energy needs. One goal is to help the country reduce its dependency on petroleum-based products by shifting to products that have an agricultural base.
OSU already is involved in some of those efforts, Dutson said, including fiber production and utilization, and development of new oilseed crops.
Steve Strauss, a professor of forest science, has become nationally known for his work with hybrid poplar trees - fast-growing hardwoods that can be used for paper and other products. These poplars are providing alternative crops for a growing number of farmers, and lessen the reliance on comparatively slow-growing Douglas-fir forests.
Steve Knapp, the Paul C. Berger Professor of Crop and Soil Science at OSU, is leading a national effort to use genetic engineering to control the types of oil produced by meadowfoam, cuphea, and other oilseed crops. The ability to alter the plants to affect the type of oil they produce is a key to making them viable for industrial use.
Oregon State has long been involved in the management of straw and other grass seed crop residue, the utilization of biomass, and other bioscience research. OSU also is emerging as a national leader in the study of natural plant products, with researchers from the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Pharmacy, Forestry and Science involved in discovering important chemical compounds found in plants and working to purify, extract or synthesize those compounds in laboratories.
Among the reasons OSU was selected as a regional center, Dutson said, is the university's strength in collaborating with other states and agencies in the region, its close relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Agricultural Research Service, its experience with business partners, and a series of strong accountability measures, including Oregon Invests - a program that tracks the benefits of money invested in agricultural research.
The university already is a Land Grant, Sea Grant and Space Grant institution.