The Virtual Institute on Feedstocks of the Future (VIFF)
VIFF aims to support U.S.-based science and technology research towards the use of underutilized biomass carbon sources as alternative feedstocks for biomanufacturing.
Future Feedstocks is a collective term for biomass feedstocks derived from waste materials, as well as those not currently in common use due to technical and other challenges. These include agricultural residues, animal waste, forestry residues, the organic fraction of municipal solid waste, and processing residues. For this funding opportunity, future feedstocks do not include industrial gases or dedicated biomass crops.
Replacing fossil feedstocks with renewable biomass sources will be a key element of a successful circular bioeconomy. It has the potential to increase the environmental sustainability of manufacturing, provide new revenue sources for farmers, ranchers, and municipalities, support manufacturing supply-chain resilience, and increase local sourcing of production materials. The carbon needed for bioproducts abounds in the environment, but it is locked into materials that are not yet cost-effective to use. Efficiently deconstructing biomass into useful carbon building blocks, or “turning the carbon we have into the carbon we want,” will require new scientific approaches and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Considerable research has addressed the conversion of biomass feedstocks rich in sugars, starches, and oils. Additional research has addressed the use of large-volume agricultural residues such as corn stover, wheat straw, and rice straw. Moving towards a more sustainable and circular bioeconomy will require considering a broader assortment of nontraditional biomass sources that do not substantially compete with food production, and that divert waste streams from unproductive or environmentally harmful pathways. Significant research opportunities remain for future feedstocks, including heterogeneous, lignocellulosic, and nontraditional biomass sources, which may be primary biomass sources, or waste resources from other processes.
VIFF aims to expand the science and technology (S&T) available to advance the use of future feedstocks in bioproduction, creating new economic and environmental benefits.
VIFF intentionally focuses its efforts on the interdisciplinary S&T research required to accelerate the adoption of future feedstocks in bioproduction. These S&T approaches may leverage innovations in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and genetic engineering, but also mechanical engineering, process engineering, and logistics; agriculture, rural development, and economics; and computer modeling and data management. Individually and collectively, VIFF projects will work to advance S&T for society.
We aim to establish a Virtual Institute hosting several independent (but complementary) integrated, interdisciplinary, and regionally distributed teams of researchers and partners. These teams will focus on advancing cutting-edge research, supported with sustained funding and connections across the Schmidt Futures talent network. As one of Schmidt Futures’ Virtual Institutes of Science, VIFF will build a network of carefully selected scientific and technical talent to solve hard and important scientific problems, accelerated through the use of advanced computing and innovative technologies.
Expressions of Intent:
Two-page expressions of intent (EOIs) for VIFF research projects focused on one or more of the following areas will be considered:
1. Heterogeneity. Biomass heterogeneity, variability, and availability remain key obstacles to utilizing future feedstocks in existing bioproduction systems. Various S&T approaches exist to address these challenges and make use of future feedstocks that – individually – may not be available in consistent quantities or at consistent quality for end users. Eligible approaches will focus on (a) developing processes and engineering innovations (e.g., individual processes or coordinated systems for future feedstock harvest, deconstruction, pretreatment, and conversion) that are resilient to heterogeneous inputs, and/or (b) making heterogeneous materials more homogeneous and predictable.
2. Data, Modeling, Digital Tools, and Knowledge-Sharing. A dearth of publicly accessible data about future feedstocks and the necessary analytical tools to understand them impedes their increased use in bioproduction. Eligible approaches will address (a) characterization relevant to future feedstocks, (b) data collection and developing new platforms for data and knowledge-sharing, and/or (c) developing and improving modeling approaches to improve predictions of the best uses of future feedstocks and best approaches to using them in bioproduction.
Learn more about the EOI and submission details, click here. Frequently asked questions will be added to the VIFF FAQ page. The FAQ will be updated on a rolling basis until the EOI submission deadline.
EOIs are due by 11:59 pm EDT on June 26, 2023.
The BioFutures Program will accelerate the translation of bioeconomy research into public and economic benefits.
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