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US DOE provides US$40 million for four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers

US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has announced US$40 million in Department of Energy (DOE) awards for the establishment of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), which will provide the scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.

The centers—each led by a DOE National Laboratory or a top university—are designed to lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy that promises to yield a range of important new products and fuels derived directly from nonfood biomass. Initial funding for the four centers will total US$40 million for Financial Year 2018, with plans for a total of five years of funding.

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. 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, said Secretary Perry.

The following centers were selected based on an open competition using outside peer review:

  • Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University;
  • Center for Bioenergy Innovation, led by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL);
  • Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory;
  • Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The current awards represent a follow-on phase to the original DOE Bioenergy Research Centers program, established by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science in 2007.

A decade of bioenergy R&D success

The original program consisted of three centers, including those mentioned above led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, ORNL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Over ten years, these three BRCs produced multiple breakthroughs in the form of deepened understanding of sustainable agricultural practices, major re-engineering of plant feedstocks, development of new methods of deconstructing feedstocks, and reengineering of microbes for more effective fuel production.

In all, the three original BRCs produced 2 630 peer-reviewed publications, 607 invention disclosures, 378 patent applications, 191 licenses or options, and 92 patents. Through this work, they transferred substantial insight and expertise to industry through cooperation with both large and small companies.

In the next phase, the centers will build on this record of accomplishment and expand from a focus on biofuels to include the development of bio-based chemicals and other bio-based products. The three are joined by a fourth center, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a speciality in the direct production of drop-in fuels and chemicals using plants themselves as sustainable biofactories.

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