Two biofuels research projects at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service’s Western Regional Research Center (WRRC) in Albany, Calif. will receive $600,000 grants each over three years.

Funded by the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA), the WRRC biofuels grants are among 11 projects nationwide awarded on June 7 totaling $8.3 million for biofuels research to speed up alternative fuel resource development.

"To help meet President Bush's goal to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years, research and alternative fuel production needs to expand beyond corn ethanol," USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said. "These (11) grants diversify the portfolio of research by looking into new ways to develop cordgrass, rice, and switchgrass in renewable energy sources."

One of the WRRC projects involves developing a comprehensive molecular marker system for switchgrass, developing a saturated linkage map of switchgrass, and to analyze the many traits segregating in the mapping populations and identify associated markers.

According to the DOE, switchgrass is a cross-pollinated warm-season perennial grass with potential for high biomass production, but very little information about genome structure and organization is available for the specie.

The other WRRC awarded project will focus on the grass specie purple false brome, Brachypodium distachyon. The project will create a collection of insertional mutants in brachypodium distachyon. The resource collection could be used to identify mutations in genes predicted to affect biomass quality and agronomic characteristics of other perennial grass energy crops.

The 11 grants continue a commitment begun in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will provide the scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuels, the USDA and DOE said.

The program was announced during an “Advancing Renewable Energy: An American Rural Renaissance” conference in 2006 jointly hosted by the two agencies.

The 2007 grants are through the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER) in the DOE's Office of Science (SC), and the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service’s (CSREES) National Research Initiative (NRI).

In this second year of the program, new research projects on cordgrass, rice, switchgrass, sorghum, poplar, and perennial grasses join the portfolio of research on poplar, alfalfa, sorghum, and wheat.