The Virtual Institute on Feedstocks of the Future (VIFF)

VIFF aims to support science and technology research towards the use of underutilized biomass carbon sources as alternative feedstocks for biomanufacturing.

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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 VIFF, future feedstocks do not include industrial gases or dedicated biomass crops.

Overview

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, technology, and engineering available to advance the use of future feedstocks in bioproduction, creating new economic and environmental benefits.

 

VIFF intentionally focuses its efforts on the interdisciplinary science, technology, and engineering research required to accelerate the adoption of future feedstocks in bioproduction. These 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 science, technology, and engineering for society.

 

VIFF will be a Virtual Institute consisting of several independent (but complementary) integrated, interdisciplinary, and regionally distributed teams of researchers and partners. These teams will focus on advancing innovative research, supported with sustained funding and connections across the Schmidt Sciences network. As one of Schmidt Sciences’ Virtual Institutes of Science, VIFF will grow a network of carefully selected technical talent to solve challenging\ scientific problems, accelerated through the use of advanced computing and innovative technologies.

With Support From

Expressions of Intent (closed)

The Expressions of Intent (EOI) stage of VIFF is closed. Two-page EOIs for VIFF research projects focused on one or more of the following areas were requested. 

 

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.

EOI Webinar

We hosted an informational webinar about the VIFF Request for EOIs on June 12, 2023. You can find slides from the webinar here.

 

You may contact us with questions about VIFF at [email protected].

VIFF Scientific Advisory Board

The VIFF Scientific Advisory Board plays an essential role in the success of VIFF by advising Schmidt Sciences on VIFF research and future directions for the program.

James Jones, University of Florida

Dr. James Jones, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of Florida, received a PhDin Biological and Agricultural Engineering from North Carolina State University. He is internationally recognized as a leader in mathematical modeling of cropping systems; interactive effects of climate, soil, water, genetics, and management on productivity; climate risk management; resource use efficiency; decision support systems for agriculture; and integration of biophysical and economic models at farm, national, and international scales. Dr. Jones has helped develop and co-lead national and international transdisciplinary research programs, including the Florida Climate Institute consisting of ten Florida universities and the global Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP). 

Dr. Jones recently served as a Program Director in Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems Division of the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Directorate. In that role, he co-led the multi-directorate initiative, “Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems,” and helped develop  the cross-directorate funding opportunity, “Signals in the Soil”. He has served on the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources. He is now helping to lead new initiatives to achieve a more sustainable circular bioeconomy system that benefits businesses, society, and the environment. Dr. Jones has published over 500 journal articles, authored or edited 5 books, and taught short courses on agricultural system modeling in countries worldwide. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow member of the AAAS, the ASABE, the ASA, and the SSSA professional societies, and he has received many other awards and recognitions.

Nili Ostrov, Cultivarium

Dr. Nili Ostrov is the Chief Scientific Officer of Cultivarium, a nonprofit creating open-source tools for life scientists to expand access to novel microorganisms. Previously, she was the Director of Molecular Diagnostics at Pandemic Response Lab, a high-throughput diagnostic and genome biosurveillance COVID-19 facility established for New York City. Nili received her MS in Microbiology from Tel-Aviv University and her PhD in Chemistry from Columbia University. As a postdoctoral fellow in Genetics at Harvard Medical School, she spearheaded construction of synthetic chromosomes and established genome-scale engineering methods to enable research in non-model microbes. Nili further led development of a technology roadmap for the Genome Project Write (GP-write). Her research interests span metabolic engineering, protein engineering, nanomaterials, and environmental microbiology. Nili is an avid science communicator passionate about making science more open and accessible.

John Reich, Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

Dr. John Reich joined the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) in February 2016, as a Scientific Program Director. John joined FFAR because he strongly believes that advancements in the food & agriculture sector will be key to maintaining our quality of life, and that the right investments at opportune moments will provide us with the necessary tools to overcome future challenges in agriculture. At FFAR, John works on building partnerships between the public and private sectors that targets pre-competitive research to advance agriculture science including FFAR’s first multi-stakeholder consortium, the Crops of the Future, creating a model for FFAR consortia, and his most recently announced consortium, the Precision Indoor Plants Collaborative. John continuously works on developing partnerships and programs that catalyze new areas of multi-disciplinary, cross-sectorial, and participatory research that builds on current investments to benefit the public. Trained as a biomedical scientist, John applies his background in genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry to a broad range of topics that support nutrition security, health, and economic opportunities through scientific advancement.

Deepti Tanjore, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Dr. Deepti Tanjore is the Director of Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Deepti interfaces with several scientists from industry, academia, and start-ups that are each individually trying to resolve scale-up challenges for their technologies. The ABPDU performs process-scale studies to generate, recover, and purify prototype amounts of kilogram-level materials. Deepti’s research at ABPDU focuses on understanding microbial heterogeneity in bioreactors and developing real-time and/or on-line analytical tools for adequate regulation during the scale-up of these processes. Deepti received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Andhra University and a PhD in Biological Engineering from Pennsylvania State University. She is currently pursuing an MBA from Haas School of Business, University of California – Berkeley.

Vicki Thompson, Idaho National Laboratory

Dr. Vicki Thompson is the manager of the Bioenergy Feedstock Technologies department as well as a Distinguished Staff Engineer at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). She is currently the Node Lead for Recycling and Recovery within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-AMMTO funded REMADE Institute. Dr. Thompson joined INL in 1996 after receiving her BS and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Iowa and Michigan State University, respectively. Her research currently focuses on applying chemical engineering principles to biological problems. She is working to identify and characterize low-cost waste feedstocks, develop feedstock/waste blends that meet DOE targets, and develop decontamination methods for waste materials. 

Dr. Thompson participates in research projects in the Critical Materials Institute on recovery of critical metals, and development of techno economic analyses (TEAs) and life cycle assessments (LCAs) of these processes. Dr. Thompson also works in REMADE and the DOE Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO), providing expertise on processes and process models for sorting waste. Dr. Thompson was part of the team that redesigned the INL Biomass Feedstock National User Facility for processing a variety of waste streams. Her research interests include rapid, sensitive biological detection methods of environmental contaminants and toxins. Additional interests include applications in forensics, food quality control, environmental evaluation, agriculture, medical diagnostics, and biological warfare agents.

BioFutures

The BioFutures Program will accelerate the translation of bioeconomy research into public and economic benefits.  

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