Environment News Service (ENS)

$30 Million Juices Startup of Bioenergy Research Centers

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC, October 1, 2007 (ENS) - The startup of three new bioenergy research centers got a financial boost today with the U.S. Department of Energy's investment of nearly $30 million in end of fiscal year 2007 funds. The fiscal year ended September 30.

The three centers selected by DOE this June are located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Madison, Wisconsin; and near Berkeley, California. They bring together multidisciplinary teams of scientists to advance the research needed to make cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels commercially viable on a national scale.

The $9.97 million per center announced today enables the three centers to immediately begin research activities. It 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 Orbach.

He said, 'This early infusion of funds will permit the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers to get to work immediately on the basic, transformational science needed to make environmentally friendly biofuels cost-effective, increase their use for transportation, and help achieve President [George W.] Bush's goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.'

In late 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.

Last week, the Energy 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 synthesis of fuels beyond ethanol.

Subject to appropriations from Congress, over the past 12 months DOE has announced over $1 billion in a multi-year biofuels research and development investment. This includes: the $30 million announced today; $375 million DOE allocated for these three centers; up to $385 million for commercial-scale biorefineries; up to $200 million for pilot-scale biorefineries; up to $23 million for ethanol research; and up to $34 million for enzymes research in support of biofuels development.

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