Additional Funds Will Advance Biofuels Research at CRAFT

Photo of James Street on biodiesel motorcycle

Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT) received another boost today when Sixth District Congressman Ben Chandler announced the award of a $2.4 million federal grant from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).

Chandler delivered the good news at the 2010 Regional BioEnergy Field Day, held at EKU’s Meadowbrook Farm.

“We do have an opportunity here in this Commonwealth to have a vibrant coal industry and a vibrant biofuels industry,” Chandler said. “CRAFT is on the cutting edge of biofuels derived from cellulosic sources.”

CRAFT was established in December 2008 with an initial $3.6 million grant from the DLA. The additional funds will help the Center to build upon its research toward developing and demonstrating technologies to break down biomass materials such as switchgrass into sugars useable by microorganisms that produce oil for biodiesel and JP8 jet fuel.

“Eastern Kentucky University very much appreciates Congressman Chandler’s assistance in securing federal funds to support our important work in biomass/biofuels research,” EKU President Doug Whitlock said. “The potential benefits for all of Kentucky are enormous.”

During CRAFT’s initial phase, nearly 60 acres of switchgrass was planted for the development of establishment best practices and yield studies. Research has focused on saccharification, the process by which sugars are extracted from biomass materials and then fed to oil-producing algae; and the economics and utilization of co-products such as lignin and spent algae (algae after the oil is removed).

The latest round of funding will enable CRAFT to continue to fine-tune the biomass-to-biofuel production process. Targeted areas of research include: establishment of biomass storage and transportation logistics, continuation of the development of the saccharification process, economic and environmental impact analysis, design of a pilot plant for biofuel production, and the creation of a lab-scale integrated system for the biomass-to-algal oil process.

By utilizing cellulosic biomass materials available in Kentucky as building blocks to a renewable fuel industry, the technologies created by CRAFT may jumpstart a regional agricultural industry in search of a new cash crop and make the Commonwealth a leader in an emergent technology as the demand for clean and sustainable energy demands grow nationwide.

“EKU is, in my opinion, one of the best-kept secrets in the entire United States of America,” Chandler said. “But I’m afraid, with this project, it may not be such a secret in the future. This has the ability to move the University up another level.”

The EKU initiative includes numerous partnerships with private industries, government agencies, local governments and other universities “to try to develop a commercial biomass-to-biodiesel industry in central Kentucky,” noted Dr. Bruce Pratt, professor of agriculture at EKU and director of CRAFT. “We are going from field to fuel.”

Partners include General Atomics, City of Winchester, Clark County, Madison County, Governor’s Office of Ag Policy, Kentucky Cabinet for Energy and Environment, Appalachian Regional Commission, University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University and Green Earth Biofuels of Irvine. Additional discussions have been held with LexTran (as an end user of the biodiesel), East Kentucky Power and Purdue University.

 “This is a great opportunity for Kentucky agriculture to contribute to the energy solutions in the U.S. through our ability and capacity to grow biomass,” Pratt said. “Whether it is using biomass to co-generate electricity or to produce transportation fuels like biodiesel, Kentucky farmers can use bio-energy crops as an alternative to tobacco.”

CRAFT now incorporates nine EKU faculty members and 10 undergraduate students from a wide range of academic fields, such as agriculture, biology, chemistry and economics, in ongoing cross-disciplinary studies. Additional students are engaged through the incorporation of bio-energy concepts in course content.

 A new research building, located adjacent to the Carter Building on the south side of the Eastern By-Pass, will open later this fall.

 For more information about CRAFT, visit www.craft.eku.edu or call 859-622-7316.

Published on September 10, 2010