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University of Missouri

Energy Crops Find Funding

MU research team receives $5.4 million grant to study biofuel.

Shibu Jose

MU researcher Shibu Jose. Photo by Rob Hill.

When Shibu Jose looks out his car window while driving through the countryside, he sees the drought’s devastation on Missouri farmers’ corn and soybean harvests. But he also sees potential.

Jose and a team of MU researchers received a $5.4 million grant to study how biofuel crops such as sorghum and switchgrass can be converted into liquid fuel. He is the H.E. Garrett Endowed Professor in the School of Natural Resources and director of the MU Center for Agroforestry. The researchers will use the U.S. Department of Energy funding to examine how to make biofuel from plants grown on marginal land along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that is otherwise unproductive for agricultural crops. The floodplains are perfect for these species of biofuel plants, which are flood- and drought-resistant.

“We are so dependent on the global petroleum market,” Jose says. “If we can produce our petroleum and our gasoline domestically by growing our plants on our land, then we may be insulated from price fluctuations, and we may even bring the price down. If we have the opportunity to do so in our region, what we do here can be a national model.”

The five-year grant project will fund trials to determine which varieties of biomass sorghum and switchgrass are best suitable for the land surrounding the floodplains. Jose says that if landowners can plant biofuel crops on just 10 percent of the land that is considered unfit for food crops, 6 billion to 8 billion gallons of biofuel could be produced.

To read more about Jose’s research, check out the “Fuel in the Fields” feature from the Winter 2012 archives.