Colorado State University Receives $3 Million Biofuels Grant to Train Future Workforce

Note to Editors: A photo of the team leading the NSF grant is available with the news release at

The biofuels industry in Colorado and around the nation has grown so complex that the next generation of scientists need to know all its angles – from the chemistry of making it to the economics of selling it, said Colorado State University Professor Ken Reardon, the recipient of a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to provide interdisciplinary biofuels training for doctoral students.

Cutting-edge research will be critical for growth in the biofuels industry, said Reardon, a professor of chemical and biological engineering.

"The grant’s purpose is to create doctoral training programs that will prepare graduates to play an active role in the nation’s science and engineering future. The biofuels industry needs people who understand the whole picture – where biomass comes from, the ways in which it’s transformed into fuels and chemicals and whether the entire process is sustainable."

The NSF grant will establish the Integrated Graduate Education in Biorefining and Biofuels Program and will support the education of up to 45 doctoral students over the next five years in everything from environmental assessment (greenhouse gas impacts) to fuel engineering and plant biotechnology. Colorado State will provide an additional $600,000 for graduate teaching assistants and tuition premiums; the funding also supports four master’s students from CSU-Pueblo.

"We’re very supportive of this program given the changing nature of the biofuel industry," said Stephen Brand, senior vice president of technology for ConocoPhillips, which is a partner in the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory and its Center for Biorefining and Biofuels. "Through the Collaboratory, we look forward to working with students from Colorado State and other institutions in the state to drive innovation to further the potential of renewable energy."

The grant, from NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program, is one of only 20 selected nationwide. Other Colorado State University faculty members who helped develop the proposal and will run the program with Reardon are Dan Bush, chair of the biology department; Jan Leach, University Distinguished Professor of bioagricultural sciences and pest management; and Keith Paustian, professor of soil and crop sciences and senior research scientist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory.

At least 20 faculty members across the university are expected to mentor doctoral students in the Traineeship program, many from the colleges of Engineering, Natural Sciences and Applied Human Sciences. Students must be enrolled as graduate students in a science, engineering or economics field to participate.

"The program is truly integrative – faculty, staff, and students working from across disciplines to address not just a Colorado challenge but a great global challenge," said Peter Dorhout, vice provost for Graduate Affairs. "Dr. Reardon’s diverse team is poised to significantly impact how students are trained to confront these challenges at CSU and as leaders in the workforce beyond the university."

Typically, students on campus study one discipline related to biofuels, such as chemical engineering, to develop new fuel production processes or economics to measure financial implications of using different fuels. With Reardon’s grant, students in science, engineering and economics will be teamed to study various aspects of the biofuels industry.

"Although biofuel production has increased, current production methods are not sufficient to meet long-term needs in terms of capacity, net energy production, water consumption and carbon balance," Paustian said. "My research has shown that the extent to which specific biofuels can reduce greenhouse gases varies considerably, depending on the energy requirements and emissions through the entire production chain."

Biofuels research is increasingly important to the state’s economy. Gov. Ritter’s Climate Action Plan eventually requires state vehicles to run on biofuels and calls for expanded funding for biofuels research. Additionally, Colorado State University is a participant in the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, which provides cooperation among the three major research universities in the state and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Reardon is Colorado State University’s liaison to the Collaboratory’s Center for Biorefining and Biofuels.

As part of the program, companies such as Shell Global Solutions and General Motors have committed to providing internships for students.

The grant is just one piece of $5 million awarded to the university since May for biofuels research and evaluation of greenhouse gas inventories. Other biofuels-related grants awarded to Colorado State University since May:

– In July, CSU received $1.5 million, the largest single grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to accelerate research in the development of cellulosic biofuels. Cellulosic biofuels, unlike ethanol derived from corn starch, are made from the large molecules – cellulose and hemicellulose – that comprise the woody part of many common plants.

– The Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory – a cooperative arrangement between CSU, CU-Boulder, Colorado School of Mines and NREL to conduct clean energy research -awarded CSU four seed grants totaling $200,000 for research on biofuels through the Collaboratory’s Center for Biorefining and Biofuels.

– The Colorado Governor’s Energy Office awarded $175,000 to Paustian to develop a greenhouse gas emissions mitigation program for the state’s agricultural industry as part of Gov. Ritter’s Climate Action Plan goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020.