DOE Provides $30 Million to Bioenergy Research Centers

On Oct. 1, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it has invested nearly $30 million in end-of-fiscal-year (2007) funds to accelerate the start-up of its three new Bioenergy Research Centers, bringing total DOE Bioenergy Research Center investment to more than $400 million.

The three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers -- located in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Madison, Wis.; and near Berkeley, Calif. -- selected by DOE this June, bring together multidisciplinary teams of leading scientists to advance research needed to make cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels commercially viable on a national scale. The $9.97 million per center announced on Oct. 1 enables the three centers to immediately begin research activities and comes in addition to the $375 million (over five years) DOE announced it would invest.

"For the sake of both our nation's energy security and the health of our environment, we need major alternatives to imported oil and fossil fuels, and we need them soon," said DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach.

In June, DOE selected its Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), and its Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) as the lead institutions for the centers. Each DOE Bioenergy Research Center represents a multi-institutional partnership. Altogether, seven DOE national laboratories, 18 leading universities, one nonprofit organization and a range of private companies are involved in the effort. On the last week of September, the department signed a Cooperative Agreement with the University of Wisconsin and agreements with the two national laboratories, enabling the release of the FY 2007 funds.

In addition to geographic diversity, the three centers are pursuing complementary scientific agendas. The DOE ORNL BioEnergy Sciences Center will focus on the resistance of plant fiber to breakdown into sugars and is studying the potential energy crops poplar and switchgrass. The DOE UWM Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center is studying a range of plants and, in addition to exploring plant fiber breakdown, aims to increase plant production of starches and oils, which are more easily converted to fuels. This Center also has a major focus on sustainability, examining the environmental and socioeconomic implications of moving to a biofuels economy. The DOE LBNL Joint Bioenergy Institute will concentrate on ?model? crops of rice and Arabidopsis, in the search for game-changing breakthroughs in basic science, and is exploring microbial-based synthesis of fuels beyond ethanol.

For more information, visit http://www.science.doe.gov.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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