Developing sustainable energy sources is a national quest of scientists in both the private industry and public university sector. Among these endeavors is the recently started Sustainable Bio-economy for Arid Regions project led by the University of Arizona.
New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and College of Engineering faculty are among the collaborating investigators within SBAR, which is funded by a five-year grant of up to $15 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The SBAR project will research guayule and guar, two plants that grow well in the Southwest, as potential feedstock for biofuel and for high-value products such as rubber, resin and polysaccharide.
“We are excited to contribute to this research,” said College of ACES Dean Rolando A. Flores. “These crops have great potential for the economy of New Mexico and the Southwest.”
Currently, natural rubber and guar are raised in limited regions in the world. Industrial economists are concerned that political situations in those regions could impact the price and supply of the raw material.
Through SBAR, researchers from the University of Arizona, NMSU, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, Bridgestone Americas, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service will collaborate to improve research and commercialization of the products from guayule and guar.
“This project is coming at a time when various agricultural systems are facing challenges in New Mexico, with many farmers seeking alternative crops that can help maintain and improve farm profit,” said John Idowu, the lead principal investigator for NMSU. “Guayule and guar can serve as the alternative rotation crops that can help farmers in New Mexico to become more profitable.”
Guar research at NMSU’s Agricultural Science Center in Clovis has demonstrated that the low-water-use and drought-resistant crop is ideal for New Mexico and the Southwest.
Kulbhushan Grover, NMSU associate professor specializing in sustainable crop production, has conducted research on guar since joining NMSU’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences in 2009.
“Guar gum, which comes from guar seeds, is an important product used in the oil and gas industry and it is also used in many food products and pharmaceuticals,” said Grover. “Demand for guar gum in the United States is up to $1 billion annually, and most of the guar gum used is imported.”
Through research and extension activities that will be performed by the SBAR team, farmers in New Mexico will eventually be able to take advantage of this huge market presented by the high demand for guar gum.
NMSU faculty joining the world-renowned experts on guayule and guar at the other institutions:
– John Idowu, associate professor and Cooperative Extension Service agronomist. His expertise is in soil and plant health. He is the lead for the Extension Education and Outreach thrust of the project and the lead principle investigator for NMSU. He will interface with growers and Extension specialists.
– Catherine Brewer, assistant professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering. Her expertise is in conversion of biomass to biofuel and other products using thermochemical processes including hydrothermal liquefaction and pyrolysis. She is the lead for the Feedstock Logistics thrust and the K-12 education component of the project in New Mexico, and will investigate how variations in feedstock composition affect downstream processing.
– Sangamesh Angadi, associate professor of crop stress physiology. His expertise is understanding water stress responses for a variety of crops including guar, intercropping and cultivation in arid environments. He will focus on guar phenotyping and interface with regional growers.
– Paul Gutierrez, professor and Extension agricultural and business management specialist. His expertise is in rural development in low income areas of the Southwest and Mexico. He will focus on community and grower outreach, and the 4-H outreach component.
– Kulbhushan Grover, associate professor of sustainable crop production. His expertise is in sustainable crop production to build soil quality and reduce external inputs. He will evaluate the growth and performance of guar seed production with produced water and identify/develop crop management strategies to optimize guar production.
– Omar Holguin, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. His expertise is in biomass characterization and biochemistry of algae and plant products. He will focus on understanding how plant composition and product quality vary during crop development and storage.