NREL advances bioenergy

A team that includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has won a bid from the US Department of Energy for a $125m bioenergy research centre that will seek new ways to produce biofuels.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will lead the team. Funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the BioenergyScienceCenter will be located on the ORNL campus in a new facility funded by the state of Tennessee and owned by the University of Tennessee.

The centre, one of three funded from more than 20 proposals, will employ the interdisciplinary expertise of the team’s partners in biology, engineering and agricultural science and commercialisation to develop processes for converting plants including switchgrass and poplar trees into fuels.

The other two centres for bioenergy research announced today are the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the DOE Joint Bioenergy Institute.

The ORNL-led project will focus on new methods of processing plants into biofuels. The strategy involves breaking down into simple sugars the lattice of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin that makes plant cell walls resistant to the stress of weather, insects and disease. These sugars can then be processed into fuel.