WASHINGTON, July 19, 2017 - The Department of Energy has awarded $40 million to establish four Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), aimed at developing a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.
Each of the centers is to be led by a DOE National Laboratory or a top university. The department says the BRCs will lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy with a range of important new products and fuels derived directly from nonfood biomass. Initial funding for the four centers will total $40 million for FY 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,” DOE Secretary Rick Perry said. “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.”
The funding will facilitate the creation of 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 DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The 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. The original program consisted of three centers, including those mentioned above led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
DOE says that over 10 years, these three BRCs produced multiple breakthroughs in the form of deepened understanding of sustainable agricultural practices, major reengineering 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 specialty in the direct production of drop-in fuels and chemicals using plants themselves as sustainable biofactories.