2008 Awards

Economic Production of Biofuels from Industrial Sweet Potatoes - N.C. State University

Funding recipient:  North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Award amount:  $197,033

Most people in the United States are familiar only with the orange-fleshed sweet potato, but researchers in other parts of the globe, most notably China and Japan, have made much progress breeding high-starch sweet potatoes for use as a non-edible, industrial feedstock. Sweet potatoes are capable of producing very high yields, are drought resistant, and require low fertilizer inputs compared to other horticultural crops. North Carolina already has the largest sweet potato industry in the USA, with considerable expertise relating to the production of sweet potatoes, and a network of extension agents and scientist who support the industry.  This gives industrial sweet potatoes good potential to rapidly become a biofuels feedstock for North Carolina.

NCSU Researcher Ken Pecota discusses planting technique trials using cut seed pieces and sprigs during the Biofuels Field Day at the Williamsdale Bioenergy Field Laboratory near Wallace, NC, October 2008

This three-year project is focused on developing high-starch industrial sweet potatoes for North Carolina, along with integrated crop production and processing technologies, for the production of ethanol and other bio-based chemicals.  Research efforts are addressing the major impediments to the successful use of industrial sweet potatoes for ethanol production on-farm in North Carolina. Specifically, researchers are working to:

  • Breed high-yielding high-starch sweet potatoes that will produce more ethanol per acre;
  • Determine if it is feasible to plant sweet potatoes using a novel “cut seed piece” planting technology that has potential to significantly lower production costs;
  • Develop mechanical harvesting and improved storage methods so that industrial sweet potatoes can be harvested more economically and stored to provide biofuels feedstock year-round.

To achieve project goals, NCSU has assembled a multidisciplinary team of scientists consisting of breeders and molecular geneticists; crop production, cultural management and post-harvest specialists; and bioprocess engineers. The results of these complementary studies will provide the Biofuels Center of North Carolina with a solid understanding of the true potential of industrial sweet potatoes for North Carolina, and the Southeast US, in general.

Research trials have been conducted in Sampson, Lenoir, Duplin, Washington, and Granville counties.  An  interview with the researchers can be found under MEDIA. 

Leveraged funds reported: $195,607
North Carolina counties benefiting from this project: Duplin, Granville, Lenoir, Sampson, Wake, and Washington

For additional information about the impact of Biofuels Center funding and a brief explanation of award recipient reporting requirements, click HERE: