UW, WSU Get $80M Federal Grants to Spur Biofuels Industry

Xconomy Seattle — 

We have a lot of biomass here in the Northwest (i.e., trees) and a lot of smart scientists at the University of Washington and Washington State University. Now the federal government is kicking in some money to see what the Northwest can do to combine the biomass and the brain mass to produce the kind of fuels that drive the economy.

The University of Washington and Washington State University have been awarded $80 million in federal grants to, as the Seattle Times put it today “kick-start a biofuels industry in the Northwest.” The UW and WSU will each get $40 million, the Times said. Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, is planning to make the announcement today at Sea-Tac International Airport.

Vilsack told the Times he was confident that when the five-year grant cycle is over, scientists will have found a way to spark an industry that uses trees as raw material for fuel. “I’d bet my life on it,” he told the newspaper.

The Northwest has seen pretty limited activity so far in biofuels, as many companies have scrambled to deal with high commodity prices and a down economy. But there has been action going on behind the scenes in the local politics, business, and scientific communities—principally through a group known as Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest. This effort, which I wrote about here in April, wants to keep the focus on using renewable sources of biomass for aviation fuel.