Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced the award of $6.2 million in grants to more than two dozen small businesses and community groups to develop innovative uses for woody biomass, including renewable energy and new products, from national forests.

"These grants help communities, entrepreneurs and others turn residues from forest restoration activities into marketable forest and energy products," said Johanns. "Not only will these projects reduce the risk of wildfire, they will help us to achieve the President's energy goals. Our farm bill proposals would take this effort to the next level by providing funding for research and new woody biomass projects."

The Administration's farm bill proposals would accelerate the development of new technologies to better utilize low-value woody biomass by authorizing $150 million in 10 year mandatory funding for Forest Service research.

The grants will help create markets for small-diameter material and low-valued trees removed from forest restoration activities, such as reducing hazardous fuels, handling insect and diseased conditions, or treating forestlands impacted by catastrophic weather.

The Forest Service, a USDA agency, selected 26 small businesses and community groups as grant recipients. Awarded grants ranged from nearly $125,000 to $250,000. According to requirements, all 26 recipients provided at least 20 percent of the total project cost. Non-federal matching funds ranged from $62,500 to more than $2 million per project, for a total of almost $12 million.

The Forest Service's State and Private Forestry, Technology Marketing Unit at the agency's Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. will administer the grant program.

Grantees, chosen from 93 applications requesting more than $20 million in funding support, proposed a wide array of innovative uses for woody biomass.

The Department of Forestry at North Carolina State University will receive $248,000 as one of the program participants.