America is experiencing its second major energy crisis in 30 years. There have been shortages of electrical power and retail prices of gasoline and natural gas have hit record levels. Consumers have felt the pinch of high energy costs. It is clear that energy costs and shortages will impact the entire economy.
Farmers have been experiencing economic hardships, as well, resulting in a devastating exodus to urban centers. Viable economic alternatives and diversity are needed in agriculture to bolster the nation’s independent farm families.
Agriculture can reduce America’s reliance on imported fossil fuels and petroleum-based products by producing feedstock for a biobased shift to production of:
- Fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel
- Electrical power
- Building materials
- Many other biobased products
The Sun Grant Mission
Through development, distribution and implementation of biobased energy technologies, the Sun Grant Initiative holds these aims:
- Enhance America’s national energy security
- Promote diversification and environmental sustainability of America’s agriculture
- Promote opportunities for economic diversification in America’s rural communities
Five regions of the U.S. will carry out the Sun Grant Initiative, with coordination led by land-grant universities that have biomass production potentials and involvement in bioenergy research. A Southeastern Sun Grant Center of Excellence at the University of Tennessee, would coordinate activity in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
As envisioned, the Sun Grant Initiative would create university-based research, extension and educational programs for biobased energy technologies. Much of the initiative’s focus is on generating new and innovative ideas. Accordingly, three-fourths of the Initiative’s funding is earmarked for competitive grants.
The Sun Grant Initiative will enlist the resources of the land-grant universities. Partnerships with private sector entities, foundations, other educational institutions, local, state and federal governments and other organizations will be essential.
A new era is dawning for research, rural development and land-grant service, and it holds great potential for the universities and rural economies of the Southeastern United States.
The founding principles of the Sun Grant Initiative are to develop biobased products, many of them with industrial applications, and to stimulate renewed economic activity, particularly in rural areas, through renewable energy and new biobased, non-food industries.
The push to create and fund this nationwide biobased energy research program is gaining momentum. Legislation supporting the initiative was included in the federal Fiscal Year 2004 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. Now is the time to consider the impacts and benefits this landmark.