The Sun Grant Initiative will be making available more than $1.3 million to area scientists and engineers developing and enhancing new sources of energy based on agricultural products.

“These much-needed research projects are made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation,” said Clarence Watson, director of the Sun Grant Initiative’s South-Central Region, headquartered at Oklahoma State University.

The Sun Grant Initiative is a national program established to create new solutions for America's energy needs and to revitalize rural communities by working with land-grant universities and their federal and state laboratory partners on research, education and extension programs.

Two types of projects are being funded: seed-grant projects allowing investigators to explore possible renewable-energy sources and processes and integrated projects that require multi-institutional participation.

Researchers Yanqi Wu, Nurhan Dunford and Babu Fathepure of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources were awarded grants totaling $205,858.

  • Wu’s $56,250 grant will focus on testing and breeding new switchgrass cultivars for increased biomass production in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.
  • Dunford will use her $74,608 grant to examine the effect of growth media chemical composition on algal biomass properties.
  • Fathepure’s $75,000 grant will be used to foster discovery of novel lignin-degrading genes in bacteria.

Texas A&M University researchers Dirk Hays, Joshua Yuan and Girisha Ganjegunte were awarded grants totaling $491,921.

  • Hays received $341,922 for his integrated research project exploring the commercialization of identity preserved grain sorghum with optimized endosperm matrices for enhanced bioethanol conversion.
  • Yuan was awarded $74,999 to develop a novel approach to increase biomass yield through altering prohibitin expression.
  • Ganjegunte received $75,000 to explore the use of alternate water sources for bioenergy crops production in arid regions of the United States.

Felix Fritschi of the University of Missouri received $367,158 to lead an integrated research project relative to assessing and predicting switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum yields and economic viability.

Donghai Wang of Kansas State University was awarded $75,000 to evaluate the potential of big bluestem for biofuels production.

Colorado State University’s Yaling Qian and Calvin Pearson were awarded grants of $75,000 and $74,861, respectively. Qian will study the feasibility and environmental impact of switchgrass grown on marginal land. Pearson will examine ways to develop low-input, high-biomass perennial cropping systems to support a bioenergy economy on marginal lands.

Maria Gutierrez-Wing of Louisiana State University will study the production of lipids for biofuels through mixotrophic growth of a mixed microalgae-cyanobacteria culture.

“The intent is to develop useful new technologies and knowledge that eventually can be brought to the marketplace,” Watson said.

The South-Central Region provides funding to scientists and engineers at land-grant universities in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.