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Research projects at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) and Virginia State University (VSU) are exploring the potential for sustainable sources. (Photo contributor: Clickontheway, Shutterstock.com)

Recently, two UMES researchers won an Energy Innovation Seed Grant to investigate the possibility of converting industrial hemp into bioethanol. Dr. Jurgen Schwarz, chairman of UMES’ Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, and Dr. Sadanand Dhekney, associate professor of plant breeding and biotechnology, were recipients of a $50,000 award from the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

Schwarz and Dhekney partnered with Atlantic Biomass, LLC, and found that hemp’s biomass characteristics make it a promising source of biofuel.  Atlantic Biomass is a small business in Frederick, Maryland. The company is focused on the development and commercialization of processes that allow the use of low-cost, non-food biomass as feedstocks for renewable sustainable biofuels and bioproducts. Processes developed besides hemp biomass include sugar beet pulp for biofuels and dandelions for rubber.

Farmers can earn income from growing hemp commercially, using parts of the plant that would otherwise be considered waste. The researchers hope to develop technology that can identify high-yield hemp cultivars for biofuel production, leading to more significant investment and job creation in Maryland.

Meanwhile, VSU’s Sustainable and Urban Agriculture Program is teaching Virginians how to adopt sustainable and urban agriculture practices.

According to the website, the educational program covers the production, harvesting, marketing, and distribution of vegetables and small fruits, as well as gardening and livestock-rearing techniques. The program also provides hands-on training through workshops, field days, and on-farm demonstrations.

The long-term goal is to increase the adoption of sustainable urban agriculture practices in Virginia, leading to enhanced environmental, economic, and social sustainability. During one Zoom call to explore solar energy conversion technologies for backyard aquaponics systems, participants shared resources for information. Take a listen to VSU urban farmer Curtis Moody.

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