Study may help energy security


Jana L. Haas

Passage of the Sun Grant Initiative (SGI), a nationwide program originated by South Dakotans, would mean an increase in the public services provided by the land-grant system of the United States.

The initiative will enhance the nation’s ability to produce renewable fuels efficiently.

“It is a broadening of our role to our country and is the next major step for land-grant universities,” said Kevin Kephart, South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station director.

Senator Tom Daschle introduced the Sun Grant Initiative for Renewable Energy and Biobased Products Act in the Senate on Sept. 30, 2002. Passage of the bill must be approved by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and signed by the president before it can take full effect.

SDSU faculty and officials have been working on the project since January 2001.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle launched the plan in the summer of 2001.

The bill includes an authorization of appropriations to include $100 million for each of fiscal years 2003 through 2020 to be spread throughout the national initiative.

The mission of the Sun Grant Initiative is to enhance America’s national energy security through development, distribution, and implementation of biobased energy technologies.

The mission includes the promotion of diversification and environmental sustainability of America’s agriculture. It will also promote opportunities for biobased economic diversification in America’s rural communities.

Sun Grant institutions would provide a framework for new investments in research and potentially make significant advances in biobased industries for the benefit of independent farmers, rural communities, and the public at large.

The SGI would identify new methods of converting various crop varieties and biobased natural resources into energy and other value-added products, which would assist the economic development of the nation’s rural communities.

The SGI could potentially reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy and provide environment-friendly biobased alternative products.

The initiative consists of a consortium of five, regional, land-grant university centers of excellence that will lead the renewable energy effort and coordinate with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy.

The universities include SDSU for the North-Central Region; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for the Southeastern Region; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, for the Southern Region; and Oregon State University, Corvallis, for the Western Region.

The five land-grant universities split a $560,000 grant as a result of the U.S. Senate passage of the Agriculture Appropriations Conference Report on Nov. 15, 2001. The grant is used for program planning and developing a report describing what the SGI would do. The report will be given to the USDA.

The centers will serve as the primary liaison with Department of Energy research laboratories at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn., and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colo.

The centers will emphasize research, higher education, and extension programs on renewable energy and biobased industries. The biobased industries could include lubricants, plastics, solvents, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and building materials.

SDSU will likely build a center if the initiative is approved.

The biobased energy technologies will complement petroleum, while biobased, non-food products offer an alternative to traditional agricultural commodities.

Not only the colleges of agriculture but also other disciplines such as engineering and pharmacy will be involved.

“It’s really a campus-wide effort,” said Kephart.

Kephart anticipates possible new majors in renewable energy and biobased products.