The National Science Foundation announced this month that it is funding a new research effort at the University of Illinois aimed at understanding how and whether it is possible to build sustainable infrastructure to support the emerging biofuels industry.
The $2 million grant is one of six NSF awards this year to institutions engaged in engineering infrastructure research. The Illinois team will tackle the engineering, social, environmental and economic constraints of developing and maintaining critical engineering infrastructure so as to sustainably support the emerging bio-economy.
The interdisciplinary nature of the effort is reflected in the breadth of expertise of its researchers: civil and environmental engineering professors Ximing Cai (project leader), Yanfeng Ouyang, Imad Al-Qadi and Murugesu Sivapalan (also in geography); agricultural and biological engineering professor Steven Eckhoff; atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain; agricultural and consumer economics professor Madhu Khanna; natural resources and environmental science professor Gregory McIsaac; and sociology professor Stephen Gasteyer (formerly at Illinois and now at Michigan State University).
The focus of the research is biofuels infrastructure in Illinois, but the findings will be of interest on a global scale, the researchers said. The Midwest is a prime agricultural region and the manner in which the biofuels industry develops in the Midwest will have implications for the overall food and agricultural picture.
Illinois already leads the nation in research on a promising biofuels crop, a tall perennial grass known as Miscanthus x giganteus. A recent large-scale study from Illinois showed that Miscanthus is more than twice as productive as corn as a biofuels feedstock, and that it may do best on marginal land.
The university also is one of three U.S. institutions selected last year to be part of a $500 million, BP-funded Energy Bio
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign