URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — People on the U of I’s campus are working in a lab to eventually help farmers in their fields.
It’s all thanks to a 5 year, $115 million grant from the Department of Energy.
We first told you about the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, or Cabbi, last year. Researchers are working to turn plants into energy and do it in a sustainable way.
“It’s been an exciting and a little bit stressful year,” says Evan DeLucia, CABBI’s Director. In the first year, some of their work included hiring more than 50 people. They expect to double that next year. Researchers have also built out for their farms for ecological work.
The end goal?
“Producing a high value crop that farmers can use to diversify their crop portfolio,” says DeLucia.
That’s not all. They also want to produce products that can substitute for fossil fuels.
“And to do it in an economically and ecologically sustainable way … if we did that, it would be the home run,” he says.
There are three focuses: feedstocks, conversion and sustainability. Amy Marshall-Colon is working with feedstocks.
“If we can get two valuable products out of one plant that’s something that would really poise the entire agriculture system to benefit … So if we could get a grain from something like sorghum but then also be able to extract oils from the stem,” she says.
The conversion group will take crops produced from feedstocks — and if they’re not right for commercial purposes, turn them into something more marketable.
Wendy Yang and her team are trying to make sure all of this research is done in a way that protects the environment. So far, they’ve looked at how nitrogen cycles between soil and crops.
“Sometimes the microbes can convert that fertilizer nitrogen intro nitrate that then is very easily lost from soils through leeching so that pollutes our waters so that becomes an environmental issue,” says Yang.
It’s a lot of work but it’s set them up for the next few years. It’s also set up a new generation of scientists for their careers.