Texas A&M system agencies join forces to hasten bioenergy revolution

Agriculture, engineering to collaborate

The Texas A&M University System has the scientific expertise in engineering and agriculture to become a national leader in the development of clean, renewable bioenergy when cars run on some refined form of grease, garbage or grain or scores of other plant and animal products.

Today, the System's two premier research agencies in agriculture and engineering--the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station--joined forces to hasten the bioenergy revolution, forming the Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance.

"Bioenergy is emerging as an important part of the energy solution, with economic, environmental and social impact," said John D.White, chairman of the A&M System Board of Regents. The Texas A&M University System is uniquely situated to work with existing industries and infrastructure, combined with emerging ideas and technologies, to create a reliable and complementary range of products to help the people of Texas and beyond. With the scientific expertise we have in both agencies, we are making this a top research priority."

"What we have going for us in the Texas A&M System are the agricultural scientists who are developing the drought-tolerant crops for a sustainable supply of biomass," White continued, "and we have the engineers who are working on the technologies and the engine designs that can maximize the effectiveness of bioenergy fuels. We also think our highly productive agriculture industry can become a major source of renewable energy," he said, pointing out that Texas already produces large volumes of crop and animal residues that could be prime sources of these fuels.

This Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance was formally recognized during a ceremonial signing of a memorandum of agreement by White and A&M System Chancellor Robert D. McTeer following the A&M System Board of Regents meeting on Friday (July 28).

"With the renewed national interest in biofuels and energy independence, and our collective strengths in agriculture and engineering, the A&M System is positioned to be a leader in addressing the global demand for renewable transport fuels, which is good for the world economy" said Robert D. McTeer, chancellor of the A&M System.

"This formal agreement is groundbreaking and exciting because it provides the infrastructure to better align and prioritize our research initiatives and leverage our unique and cutting-edge research in the areas of biomass and biofuels," said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of engineering and director of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. "Ultimately, this alliance will accelerate our abilities to transfer new technologies from the lab to the marketplace, which means providing the public real solutions that are economical, sustainable and environmentally friendly."

"There are two key components required to unlock the possibilities of biofuels: agriculture and engineering. The A&M System will utilize capabilities that no other program can match. The potential of combining these capabilities is staggering, and we are ready to take a leadership role in the research and development of biofuels," said Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences and director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station

For example, chemical engineering professor Mark Holtzapple has developed the MixAlco process, which converts biodegradable material into alcohol for fuel. "We can use anything biodegradable," Holtzapple said. "Trees, grass, manure, sewer sludge, garbage -- if you put it outside and it rots, we can use it."

The process can also use high-productivity feedstocks, such as sugar cane and sorghum, a crop that can be grown extensively in Texas. The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station is recognized as the world leader in sorghum-based research, and germ plasm developed by the Experiment Station is estimated to be found in 75 percent of the hybrids grown in the United States today.

"Our studies show that sorghum can produce the same amount of biomass as corn, with one-third less water," said Dr. Bill Rooney, a plant breeder for the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in College Station. "Now that's the type of competitive advantage that producers are seeking."

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The Texas A&M's Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance expects to contribute significantly to the national biofuels initiative, which is part of the Bush administration's goal to reduce American dependence on foreign oil by replacing 75 percent of oil imports by 2025.

The A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation. Through a statewide network of nine universities, seven state agencies and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System educates more than 101,000 students and makes more than 15 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. Externally funded research brings in $600 million every year and helps drive the state's economy.


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