The Sun Grant Initiative at Oregon State University: Moving America Toward Energy Independence

The vision of an energy-independent America has stirred leaders and citizens to seek ways to reduce our reliance on imported, petroleum-based energy. Developing our own home-grown energy is a key strategy for achieving that vision.

Bio-based raw materials offer the promise of greater energy independence. That’s good for national security, and it’s good for the environment. Bio-based materials also have potential to diversify American agriculture, stabilize rural economies, and enhance prosperity for rural and urban citizens.

Funded by Congress through the Farm Bill, the Sun Grant Initiative supports research and development to replace fossil fuels with bio-based raw materials in products such as vehicle fuels and feedstocks for generating electricity, as well as building materials, lubricants and solvents, plastics and adhesives, and pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The Sun Grant Initiative is a network of five regional centers, each anchored by a land grant university:

  • Oregon State
  • Penn State
  • Oklahoma State
  • South Dakota State universities
  • University of Tennessee

These universities are at the forefront of bioenenergy and biofuels R&D. Their researchers work together with those from federally funded laboratories to bring bio-based energy and other products to the commercial marketplace.

Oregon State University anchors Sun Grant’s Western Regional Center, which takes in nine western states and five U.S. Pacific Territories. Research in the Western Region falls into three priority areas:

  • Feedstock enhancement and development
  • Biomass conversion and biofuel and bioenergy processing
  • Bioproducts

Western Region Research Efforts Now in Progress

  • Studying herbicide sensitivity in camelina, a mustard-related oilseed crop that can be grown on marginal lands and whose oil has potential for conversion to fuel.
  • Developing economical ways to manage plantations of fast-growing hybrid poplar for feedstock for energy generation.
  • Using algae to treat dairy effluent and turn it into soil amendments. 
  • Developing western juniper, an aggressive native tree of the dry intermountain West, as feedstock for generating electricity.
  • Using enzymes from fungi to break down softwood waste from thinning of overcrowded forests and facilitate its use as biofuel.
  • Calculating the environmental, energy and economic benefits of converting grass seed straw to bioethanol.
  • Mapping of optimum climates across the nation for growing of various bioenergy crops.
  • Probing the factors that influence the characteristics of biochars—the residues remaining after burning of biomass—and the suitability of different biochars for stormwater filtration and soil amendments.
  • Exploring the potential for producing hydrogen—one of the world’s cleanest-burning fuels—from wood pulp using a process called bio-electrolysis.

The Sun Grant Initiative harnesses a tradition of research, education, and Extension that has energized land grant universities for 150 years. Oregon State University is proud to partner with Sun Grant to bring to life the vision an energy-independent America.