CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has named John Talbott as the new director of the Western Region Sun Grant program, through which he will oversee Sun Grant operations in nine states and several Pacific islands. His appointment is effective immediately.
The Sun Grant Initiative is a national network of land grant universities researching the development of bioenergy – energy derived from agricultural products instead of petroleum. OSU coordinates the Western Region Center.
Sun Grant's goal is to increase environmental sustainability, economic development, and national energy security. The organization awards competitive grants to researchers for projects to develop renewable alternative bio-based energies. Bill Boggess has directed the western region since 2008, while maintaining his position as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. He will remain involved with Sun Grant at the national level.
"One of the drivers for bringing John in is that the Sun Grant program has matured; it's ready for a full-time director," Boggess said. "We're expecting John to do things we've never had the resources to do, such as building our working partnerships with federal research agencies, private firms, and related state agencies throughout the western region."
Talbott, who is finishing his public policy Ph.D. dissertation at Virginia Tech, has a diverse background that includes time as a wildlife ecologist, ranch hand, private consultant and county and state agency administrator. For the past five years, he has been deputy director and project manager of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership headquartered at Montana State University, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy working to find ways to capture and permanently store greenhouse gasses.
Priorities for the Western Region Sun Grant program include enhancing and developing alternative feedstock, the plant material used to make bioenergy; creating energy-efficient agricultural operations; and producing sustainable aviation biofuels. Boggess said there has been a renewed demand for both commercial and military aviation biofuels.
OSU recently participated in an effort, led by several major airlines and other aviation stakeholders, which resulted in an outline to develop a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest.
Talbott's work in his new position may be driven by this increase in interest.
"It's going to be incumbent on Sun Grant, OSU and the other universities to work with producers themselves," Talbott said. "How do we supply them with the knowledge and economic security necessary to change their agricultural operations to focus on feedstock for biofuel?"
As an avid outdoorsman, Talbott is familiar with rural communities and the challenges they face. He said the Sun Grant position will allow him to have a stake in aiding those places.
"Here's a chance to do something both for the environment and the environmental policy and at the same time really spur some sustainable economic growth in these rural communities," he said. "I find that really intriguing and a really exciting challenge."