Native Grasses - Energy for the Heartland

Newsletter Issue: 
February 2014

Ken Moore posing in the field with grasses

How do you provide energy to a population whose energy demands are constantly increasing? How do you feed a growing global population? How can you better protect the environment from commercial agricultural practices that can potentially harm it? How might we integrate perennial grasses strategically back into the Midwest’s agricultural landscape?

CenUSA Bioenergy, a multi-state research project supported by USDA, is working to answer such questions. According to Ken Moore, CenUSA Project Director and Iowa State University Professor of Agronomy, the new generation of bioenergy researchers must work to address important and complex issues. “This project really addresses some of the critical issues that we have worldwide in terms of environment, energy, population, food,” he said. 

Moore leads the ambitious, $25 million project that involves research partners from nine institutions including: Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Illinois-Champaign, University of Vermont-Burlington and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. 

CenUSA’s goal is to create renewable fuels and products through agriculture, but to do so in a way that is environmentally friendly. As an agronomist, this topic has always intrigued Moore. “My discipline in agronomy sort of engages in all those issues so it is exciting to work on solutions to those problems,” he said.

Native grasslands were once common throughout the Midwest and could be again, returned to the landscape through a new, sustainable bioenergy market. The focus of CenUSA Bioenergy is on producing bio-oil, a diesel alternative, through the pyrolysis of perennial grasses.