North Carolina State University will use a $4 million grant to study the most efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways of producing biofuels from trees and from forest harvesting residue.

North Carolina State is part of the Southeast Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems, a collaboration of several universities and industry partners who will work on all aspects of the “biofuels pipeline” between the forests where the trees — the biomass feedstock — are grown and the “biorefineries” where the biofuels are produced.

The partnership is funded for five years with a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The research includes understanding the challenges of storing and transporting the biomass, and studying new developments in the production of biofuels.

It also includes developing and deploying measures of the environmental and economic impacts of producing biofuel, saysSteve Kelley, professor and head of North Carolina State’s Department of Forest Biomaterials and the principal investigator for the North Carolina State portion of the grant. He adds that the entire biofuel production process must be efficient, scalable and sustainable.

“The Southeast is a veritable ‘wood basket’ that can produce much of the feedstock that shows great promise for production of biofuels,” Kelley says. “Besides the obvious need for energy security, this project will develop economic and environmental measures that can inform the public discussion at the community level, and allow individual communities to evaluate their prospects for job creation and landowner income. We want to create the infrastructure capable of providing the backbone for increased biofuel capacity.”

The partnership will also study the best ways of informing and training forest landowners and local businesses on the “hows” and “whys” of producing, harvesting and transporting different varieties of biofuel feedstock.

The partnership grant was one of five USDA-NIFA grants recently announced — totaling more than $136 million — aimed at developing regional, renewable energy markets, generating rural jobs and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Joining Kelley as investigators on the grant are Robert Bardon, Vincent Chiang, Sudipta Dasmohapatra, Barry Goldfarb, Fikret Isik, Hasan Jameel, Steve McKeand, Dan Robison, Sunkyu Park, Jose Stape, Richard Venditti and Ross Whetten. They are all faculty members in North Carolina State’s College of Natural Resources.