University of Arizona receives US$15 million grant to research Guayule

The University of Arizona has received a five-year grant of up to $15 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to lead a new centre focusing on the mass production of biofuels and bioproducts in the Southwestern US.

The centre will research guayule and guar, two plants that grow well in the Southwest, as potential feedstocks for developing not only biofuel but also high-value bioproducts such as rubber, polysaccharide and resin. Partnering with the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions Center to improve research and commercialization of these products are Bridgestone Americas, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, New Mexico State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

“Researchers at the University of Arizona are ideally positioned to solve complex environmental and economic problems,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “This grant will help us work alongside the community, industry and partner universities across the Southwest to grow our region’s economy while finding cleaner and more sustainable energy sources for the future.”

The grant was awarded to help meet a goal, established by the U.S. in 2007, to reduce dependence on foreign oil and bio-based products by producing and delivering 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022 — approximately 25 percent of the current U.S. demand. Biofuels have as many uses as traditional energy sources and could be used more widely in the future to power automobiles, homes, industrial manufacturing facilities and airplane engines.

Kimberly Ogden, director of the UA Institute for Energy Solutions and a professor in the College of Engineering, will head the Sustainable Bioeconomy for Arid Regions Center:

“We have world-renowned experts on guayule and guar here at the UA, and they’ll be working to understand the best ways to plant and grow these crops,” Ogden said.

Ten researchers from the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, or CALS, are involved in the centre, including team leaders Peter Waller, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and Dennis Ray, University Distinguished Professor in the School of Plant Sciences.

Guayule is a perennial desert shrub that produces natural rubber and organic resins. Guar is an annual desert legume that produces a polysaccharide used for oil and gas recovery in fracking operations. Each requires minimal water. About 85 per cent of the biomass for these plants can be readily converted to biodiesel, jet fuel and kerosene using existing conversion technologies.


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