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A University of Florida-led research team has won a three-year, $6.3 million grant to develop genetically improved loblolly pine trees that yield greater amounts of terpene biofuels for transportation fuels.
The grant, announced yesterday, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E. It’s part of a $156 million funding package dedicated to 60 innovative clean-energy projects.
The researchers hope to bring about a five-fold increase in the amount of terpene produced by loblolly, making it cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels.
Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the grant award demonstrates the university’s leadership in biofuel research.
“Loblolly pine is economically important throughout the Southeast because it’s widely used for lumber and wood pulp,” Payne said. “By developing loblolly’s potential as a sustainable biofuel source, we can add a new dimension to its value. That has long-term benefits to the entire region and will provide greater economic security for our residents.”
Loblolly pine is planted on more than 25 million acres in 10 southeastern states. The forest products industry provides 5.5 percent of all jobs in the region, according to UF figures.
The research team is led by Gary Peter, a professor of forest genomics with UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation. The team includes John Davis, a UF forest resources professor, and personnel from the University of California – Berkeley, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and ArborGen LLC, a leading commercial supplier of genetically improved loblolly seedlings.
Peter said that by boosting terpene production, researchers hope to increase its use as a “drop-in” amendment to jet and diesel fuels, requiring little processing before use.
Terpene is a major component of pine tree resin, Peter said. Existing loblolly varieties have a terpene content of 3 percent to 5 percent; the researchers hope to develop varieties that accumulate more than 20 percent.
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Gary Peter, a professor with the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, leads a research team that was awarded a three-year, $6.3 million grant to develop genetically improved loblolly pine trees for biofuel production. Photo by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS