The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected and will invest up to $375 million in three new Bioenergy Research Centers that will be located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Madison, Wisconsin; and near Berkeley, California.
DOE will fund the centers—the mission of which is to accelerate basic research in the development of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels—for the first five years of operation (Fiscal Years 2008-2013).
A major focus will be on understanding how to re-engineer biological processes to develop new, more efficient methods for converting the cellulose in plant material into ethanol or other biofuels that serve as a substitute for gasoline.
The Centers will bring together diverse teams of researchers from 18 of the nation’s leading universities, seven DOE national laboratories, at least one nonprofit organization, and a range of private companies. All three Centers are located in geographically distinct areas and will use different plants both for laboratory research and for improving feedstock crops.
The mission of the Bioenergy Research Centers lies at the frontier between basic and applied science, and will maintain a focus on bioenergy applications.
DOE’s three new Bioenergy Research Centers are:
The DOE BioEnergy Science Center, led by the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Center Director will be Martin Keller, and collaborators include: Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia; DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado; University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia; and the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, in close collaboration with Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. The Center Director will be Timothy Donohue, and other collaborators include: DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington; Lucigen Corporation in Middleton, Wisconsin; University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida; DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois; and Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
The DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The Institute Director will be Jay Keasling, and collaborators include: Sandia National Laboratories; DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; University of California - Berkeley; University of California - Davis; and Stanford University in Stanford, California.
Subject to the finalization of contract terms and congressional appropriations, the Centers are expected to begin work in 2008, and would be fully operational by 2009. DOE’s Office of Science issued a competitive Funding Opportunity Announcement in August 2006 to solicit applications. The three Centers were chosen following a merit-based, competitive review process that included external scientific peer review of the applications.
The establishment of the bioenergy research centers culminates a six-year effort by DOE’s Office of Science to lay the foundation for breakthroughs in systems biology for the cost-effective production of renewable energy. In July 2006, DOE’s Office of Science issued a joint biofuels research agenda with the Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy titled “Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol.” (Earlier post.) The report provides a detailed roadmap for cellulosic ethanol research, identifying key roadblocks and areas where scientific breakthroughs are needed.