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Search: Biomass

Agricultural Research Needs to Be a Priority

Agronomist Edgar E. Hartwig with soybeans

Agricultural research means real results helping real people every day. Agronomist Edgar E. Hartwig has devoted half a century to soybeans research, developing productive plants with built-in resistance to insects, nematodes, and diseases. He is best known for commercial varieties that include Bragg, Lee, Forrest, Lamar, Sharkey, and most recently, Vernal. (USDA ARS photo by Keith Weller.)

Seeing President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposal and the strong commitment it makes to agricultural research reminds me of Dr. Consuelo De Moraes.

As a university researcher and panel manager of the National Research Initiative (NRI) competitive grants program, I called Dr. De Moraes in 2002 to inform her that USDA was going to fund her research proposal on determining how plants defend themselves against insects, so farmers could exploit the same as a means to control pests. She screamed with happiness. Later I learned that people heard the scream throughout the building at Pennsylvania State University. After that, Dr. De Moraes went on to great acclaim as one of the leading insect researchers. Read more »

Tribal partnerships fuel sustainable aviation

Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production.  (Image courtesy of NARA)

Residual forest materials are collected from tribal forestland for use in aviation biofuel production. (Image courtesy of NARA)

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Alaska Airlines will conduct a demonstration flight in 2016 using 1,000 gallons of jet fuel made from forest scraps. 

The aviation biofuel was derived from twigs and small branches that would otherwise have been burned in slash piles after timber harvest. These forest residuals were provided by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe via the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance Tribal Partnership Program (NARA TPP).  TPP and other NARA partnerships are made possible by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).   Read more »

Mixed Crop-Livestock Systems: Changing the Landscape of Organic Farming in the Palouse Region

Dorper ewes grazing in selected areas in a mixed crop-livestock research project

Dorper ewes graze in selected areas in a mixed crop-livestock research project. (Image courtesy of Jonathan Wachter)

Grazing livestock may soon be a common sight in the Palouse region of southeastern Washington, usually known for its rolling hills and grain production. 

Jonathan Wachter, a soil science doctoral student at Washington State University, has been working with a local farm to improve the competitiveness of organic mixed crop-livestock systems and their potential adoption by growers in a conventional grain-producing region. Read more »

Bioenergy, Bioproducts Education Program Builds Student Confidence, Equips Educators

Morina Ricablanca

Morina Ricablanca teaches bioenergy and other subjects to special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in North Carolina. (Image courtesy of Morina Ricablanca)

Being an educator is in Morina Ricablanca’s blood. Growing up in a family of teachers in the Philippines, she knew she would someday pursue a career in education. Ricablanca participated in an outreach program assisting troubled youth while attending Manuel L. Quezon University Law School in Manila. She realized then it was time to join the family business of teaching.

Her decision has led her to a successful career working with special needs students at East Hoke Middle School in rural North Carolina. Ricablanca was named the “2014 Teacher of the Year” for her school district, partly due to her work helping three of her students win the school’s science fair. Read more »

Study Finds Increasing Wood Pellet Demand Boosts Forest Growth, Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Creates Jobs

A truck is filled with wood chips.

A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy.

An industry that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase forest growth, and create jobs sounds too good to be true.  But that is the reality of the emerging wood pellets market in the Southern U.S.  That conclusion is supported by independent economic assessments of wood bioenergy, including a recent study that specifically focused on European pellet demand conducted by researchers at Duke and North Carolina State Universities.  Those researchers found that increasing demand for wood pellets resulted in more forest area, more forest investment, large greenhouse gas reductions, and little change in forest carbon inventories.

So, why is there concern?

Some critics have recently argued that land used to produce biomass for energy should instead be permanently protected as forests. They say that harvesting biomass from forests reduces forest carbon stocks. Instead, they claim that the best way to increase carbon storage is to reduce demand for renewable products that come from the land. Read more »

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »