AUBURN – The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Auburn University a $4.9 million grant to develop new production systems to collect woody biomass from pine plantations for making bioenergy.
Auburn’s Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts will lead the project, “High Tonnage Forest Biomass Production Systems from Southern Pine Energy Plantations,” as part of a consortium that includes central Alabama company Corley Land Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and companies from the U.S. and Canada.
“This is a very important grant that will allow us to further develop research into ways of producing more biofuel,” Auburn President Jay Gogue said. “It will help our nation find alternatives to oil and will boost the economy in areas of Alabama that rely on our forests for jobs.”
The center will work with faculty in the university’s Department of Biosystems Engineering and School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, and, in addition to Corley Land Services, the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Operations Research Unit and TigerCat, a leading manufacturer of forestry equipment. Other collaborators include Barnes Enterprises, Blue Ox Forestry and Dixie Pellet.
“We’ll work with leading producers of forest biomass for energy in Alabama to design and demonstrate a high-productivity system to harvest, process and transport the material,” said Steve Taylor, center director. “All of these groups are very close collaborators with Auburn on many research efforts that support the forest products industry and keep our nation’s forests healthy.”
The production process involves harvesting pine trees, allowing them to partially dry, chipping them and transporting the material by tractor-trailers to a biorefinery that may process it into cellulosic biofuels.
Specific project objectives are to improve the design of tree-length harvesting machines to increase productivity and minimize their environmental impacts; assemble a high-productivity, lowest-cost harvesting and transportation system for biomass; and demonstrate and document the performance of this system at an industrial scale. Auburn faculty will work with equipment designers on machine improvements and will develop and implement new sensors and GPS-based systems to help improve the performance of the forest-harvesting machines and to improve the quality of the final biomass product.
“This grant really validates our systems approach to bioenergy, starting at the beginning of the process with emphasis on feedstock production, harvesting, processing and transportation, and finishing with the ultimate conversion either to renewable electricity or biofuels – all the while keeping an eye on costs, environmental impacts and community concerns,” said Larry Fillmer, executive director of Auburn’s Natural Resources Management & Development Institute.
The project is one of five projects nationwide funded by the Department of Energy for biomass logistics research and is the only project selected to work in Southern forests.
“This award clearly demonstrates how strategic interdisciplinary research partnerships can yield significant interest at the national level,” added John Mason, Auburn’s associate provost and vice president for research.