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ORNL BioEnergy Science Center funding renewed


The U.S. Department of Energy today announced it would fund its three Bioenergy Research Centers for an additional five-year period, subject to continued congressional appropriations. The three Centers—including the BioEnergy Research Center (BESC) led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—were established by the Department's Office of Science in 2007 as an innovative program to accelerate fundamental research breakthroughs toward the development of advanced, next-generation biofuels.

"Developing the next generation of American biofuels will enhance our national energy security, expand the domestic biofuels industry, and produce new clean energy jobs. It will help America's farmers and create vast new opportunities for wealth creation in rural communities," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "By investing in innovative approaches and technologies at our Bioenergy Research Centers, we can continue to move the biofuels industry forward and grow our economy while reducing our reliance on foreign oil."

In five years of operation, the Centers have produced more than 1,100 peer-reviewed publications and over 400 invention disclosures and/or patent applications. Among the breakthroughs the Centers have achieved are new approaches for engineering non-food crops for biofuel production; reengineering of microbes to produce advanced biofuels such as "green" gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel precursors from biomass; and the development of methods to grow non-food biofuel crops on marginal lands so as not to compete with food production.

Established on the basis of a nationwide competition, each Center is designed to be a large, integrated, multidisciplinary research effort, funded at the rate of $25 million per year. Emphasis in the next five years will be on bringing new methods and discoveries to maturity, developing new lines of research, and accelerating the transformation of scientific breakthroughs into new technologies that can transition to the marketplace.

BESC is an 18-member consortium of university, industrial and private foundation partners studying ways to generate biofuels from plant sources not competing with food production.

"We've been looking at feed stocks for biofuels, such as switch grass or poplar with the view toward working out how we can use our science to understand better how we can gain access to the sugars that are highly complexed in these plants," said Paul Gilna, BESC director. "We have had a number of discoveries and publications that demonstrate that we can improve our ability to generate biofuels from these sources.

As BESC begins its sixth year of operation, Gilna said the center moves into the next phase.

"We will move the project from discovery to delivery of a number of different technologies and feedstocks that can be used commercially for the biofuels enterprise," Gilna said.

Eighteen partner organizations stretched across the United States have enhanced the success of the BESC program to date, according to Gilna.

As an innovatively designed research program, the three Bioenergy Research Centers have been subject to rigorous outside evaluation, with annual reviews by independent peer review teams. The Centers have consistently received high marks from outside reviewers in these annual evaluations for both scientific productivity and effective management and integration of their research efforts. For more information on the work of the Centers, visit http://genomicscience.energy.gov/centers/.

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