Ceres awarded $5 million for energy grasses
Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announced that it plans
to expand an advanced trait development project to increase
biomass yields of several energy grasses by as much as
40 percent in coming years, while simultaneously decreasing
the use of inputs such as nitrogen fertilizers. The project,
which was selected by the United States Department of
Energy (DOE) from among 3,700 renewable energy proposals,
will be funded in part by a $5 million advanced research
Created in 2007 by the America Competes Act, the prestigious
grant program is managed by the Advanced Research Projects
Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a DOE organization modeled
after the defense organization, DARPA, which helped launch
a number of revolutionary new technologies, including
a precursor to today’s internet. Similar to the DARPA
review process, Ceres’ technology was examined by leading
United States energy science and technology experts and
ARPA-E’s own program managers. Evaluations were based
on the potential for high impact as well as scientific
and technical merit.
Projections indicate that the Ceres traits alone could
displace 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 58 million tons
of coal over a ten year period. 1.2 million tons of nitrogen
fertilizer could be eliminated (about the amount of nitrogen
needed for 24 million acres of cotton), among other benefits.
“At the heart of our ambitions for a full-scale bioenergy
industry will be how well we utilize our land resources,”
said Richard Hamilton, Ceres chief executive. “With greater
use of technology, increased productivity will go hand-in-hand
with greater sustainability.” He noted that higher yields
reduce the land area needed to support individual projects.
The three-year project was projected to begin in December.
Ceres researchers will test its advanced traits in a
variety of energy grasses such as switchgrass, sorghum
and miscanthus. Productivity and input requirements,
such as fertilizer, will be evaluated, as well as expected
improvements to carbon and nitrogen cycles. Upon successful
completion, the Ceres traits would undergo a customary
evaluation by USDA prior to full commercialization.