Strides Made in Biomass Energy Techniques

Department of Energy Creates Bioenergy Research Centers

On July 17, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $40 million in Department of Energy awards for the establishment of four Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs). This was done in an attempt to initiate the scientific breakthroughs for a new wave of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.

The centers were selected by an open competition that utilized peer review. The selections include: the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University; the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, led by the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Each BRC will focus on creating the scientific legwork for a new biobased economy by providing scientific revelations for a new era of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy. Initial funding for the four centers will total $40 million by 2018, with plans for a total of five years of funding. Specific funding amounts for 2018 and beyond will be finalized as part of future federal budget processes and thus are due to political variances.

In a statement, Secretary Perry spoke about the necessity of the Bioenergy Research Centers.

“The revolution of modern biology has opened up vast new opportunities for the energy industry to develop and utilize products derived from biomass as a sustainable resource,” said Perry.

“These centers will accelerate the development of the basic science and technological foundation needed to ensure that American industry and the American public reap the benefits of the new bio-based economy.”

This initiative represents a follow-on phase to the original Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers program, established by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science in 2007. This program originated with three centers, including those aforementioned, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

These previous BRCs provided a lot of scientific breakthroughs. These included strides made regarding sustainable agricultural practices, major reengineering of plant feedstocks, development of new ways of deconstructing feedstocks and reengineering of microbes for more efficient fuel production. In a 10 year span, the original BRCs produced 2,630 peer-reviewed publications, 607 invention disclosures, 378 patent applications, 191 licenses or options and 92 patents.

In the next phase, the Bioenergy Research Centers will build on the record of achievements accomplished by the previous BRCs and expand from a focus on biofuels to include the creation of bio-based chemicals and other bio-based products. The three original locations are joined by a fourth center, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This Bioenergy Research Center exhibits a specialty in the production of drop-in fuels and chemicals using plants as sustainable biological sources.

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