In the midst of concern that funding for research will drop due to cuts from federal sequestration, a Havre-based program researching converting camelina oil to jet fuel got a shot in the arm from the Montana Department of Commerce.
Commerce announced Wednesday that the Montana State University-Northern Bio-Energy Center is one of the recipients of 12 grants totaling more than $1.1 million from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology.
“It is very important for Montana to support research and commercialization projects that will help to develop the state’s economy,” Meg O’Leary, director of the Montana Department of Commerce, said in a press release announcing the awards. “These grants will make Montana more competitive in the global marketplace.”
Other awards went to recipients in Butte, Billings, Missoula, Bozeman and Kalispell.
Northern’s grant is for $30,607, which the release says will be used in research focused primarily on the problem of lowering the high cost of bio-energy production, developing new uses of catalysts and chemical conversion processes.
“These, and previously funded projects have the potential to significantly impact Montana’s opportunities for economic growth,” Dave Desch, executive director of the board, said in the release.
“These newly awarded projects will receive additional matching funds as leverage,” O’Leary said. “Since the program’s inception, board-funded projects have leveraged $44 million in matching funds and have attracted $301 million in follow-on funding. These projects are an investment in Montana’s technology future and in the tech companies that develop around this research activity.”
Northern’s research into converting organic oils to fuels has received world-wide attention. The university patented its process to convert camelina oil to jet fuel, the first process that produced organically derived aromatics.
Previous processes could not produce that key component of aviation fuel, meaning petroleum-derived aromatics had to be added.
Another key component of the project is to stimulate use of camelina as a crop.
The oilseed, which has been produced and used around the world for thousands of years, grows well in the north-central Montana environment and could work well as a rotation crop or for growth on marginal land.
Proponents say that minimizes the food-versus-fuel concern often raised regarding biofuels, with people saying the land should be used to grow crops for food instead. With use as a rotation crop or on marginal land, the camelina production would not have to impact grain production.
“The results of this research hope to provide the tools and knowledge necessary to commercialize and put Montana grown camelina at the forefront of American bio-energy production,” the press release says.