WISCREPORT.COM (9/28/07) - The University of Wisconsin-Madison Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) has received $6.67 million in start-up funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The funds will allow researchers to get to work on promising new sources of energy that may someday power our cars, homes, and businesses.
This initial funding is part of a Cooperative Agreement that DOE awarded to GLBRC, one of three new research centers DOE announced earlier this year to advance basic research on plant-derived sources of clean bioenergy. The work that will be performed by GLRBC is estimated to cost $125 million in DOE funding over five years. This award stands as one of the largest research grants ever received by UW-Madison.
"Biofuels represent one of the most promising alternative energy sources," DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach says.
"Making them cost-effective will require transformational breakthroughs in basic science. This early infusion of funds will enable the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center to get under way immediately on the urgent quest for the breakthroughs our nation needs to usher in a new biofuels economy."
"This is an investment that allows us to jump-start the work of the center," says Timothy Donohue, scientific director of the DOE GLBRC and a professor of bacteriology at UW-Madison.
"We are excited to get this program started more quickly than anticipated. We need solutions to these problems today, and the sooner we can get started, the sooner we will be able to bring new technologies to the marketplace."
Based in Madison, the DOE GLBRC encompasses nearly 60 researchers at multiple institutions, including UW-Madison, Michigan State University, the DOE's Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National laboratories, and Middleton-area biotechnology firm Lucigen, among others. Its researchers are aiming to find efficient, economical ways to convert cellulose, a non-edible material in plants, trees, and grasses, into fuels and other energy products.
One of the most common organic materials on the planet, cellulose represents a potential source of sustainable energy that could help ease dependency on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum.
The DOE Office of Science program in Biological and Environmental Research has established the three bioenergy research centers this year to overcome major bottlenecks that currently make the conversion of cellulose impractical on an industrial scale. In addition to the UW-based GLBRC, the department is funding new bioenergy research centers at its Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Sitting squarely in the middle of the nation's agricultural belt, the Midwest is a "perfect place to conduct such research," notes Donohue. Wisconsin is among 12 Midwestern states that have nearly half of the nation's supply of excess biomass in the form of trees, grasses and agricultural wastes that could be harvested for fuel.
GLBRC scientists are focused on making these industries a reality by breeding new varieties of plants that are more easily converted to energy, by improving the methods for processing and converting plants into fuels such as ethanol and by developing sustainable energy practices that would limit the impact of a new biofuels economy on the environment.
"Through world-leading research in bio-energy, Wisconsin will seize today's challenges, and turn them into tomorrow's opportunity," says Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. "This center will be the centerpiece of our state's efforts to lead the country toward energy independence and will be an economic engine that will translate new discoveries into high-paying jobs."