MSUToday
Published: July 17, 2017

DOE provides next-phase funding for the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

Contact(s): Krista Eastman Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center office: (608) 890-0116 keastman@energy.wisc.edu, Layne Cameron Media Communications office: (517) 353-8819 cell: (765) 748-4827 Layne.Cameron@cabs.msu.edu

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center for an additional five years of funding to develop sustainable alternatives to transportation fuels and products currently derived from petroleum. 

In this next phase of funding, GLBRC scientists and recently recruited experts will conduct research that enables the sustainable production of specialty biofuels and bio-products using dedicated bioenergy crops such as switchgrass, poplar trees and sorghum. These bioenergy crops will be grown on marginal – or non-agricultural – land, a shift from GLBRC’s previous mission of producing biofuels from crops grown on agricultural land.

Established by the Biological and Environmental Research program in DOE’s Office of Science in 2007, GLBRC is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Energy Institute and includes a major partnership with Michigan State University. The cross-disciplinary center draws on the expertise of biologists, chemists, engineers and economists, and employs more than 400 researchers, students and staff conducting foundational bioenergy research. 

Since its inception, the GLBRC has received roughly $267 million in DOE funding. 

“Collaboration has been at the core of GLBRC’s efforts from Day One, and it will continue to drive the goals of this new center and help us realize our vision of developing bio-based sources of fuels and chemicals,” said Tim Donohue, GLBRC director. “We are in a unique position to not only address a major societal challenge, but to create new revenue sources and economic opportunities for farmers, rural communities and a new generation of bio-refineries, as well as to create new, locally produced and cost-effective products for consumers.” 

DOE has announced four Bioenergy Research Center selections for fiscal year 2018, with plans to provide five years of funding. Specific funding amounts for 2018 and beyond will be finalized as part of future federal budget processes.

Over GLBRC’s 10-year history, it has built academic and industrial partnerships that have yielded more than 1,000 scientific publications, 160 patent applications, 80 licenses or options, and five start-up companies.

“MSU has driven much of the sustainability focus of the GLBRC, and we are proud of the many areas of expertise we contribute,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “The research center provides exciting opportunities for us to collaborate across campuses and disciplines, tackling the challenge of bio-based energy solutions with an integrated approach.” 

Building on past accomplishments, GLBRC’s next phase will focus on producing dedicated bioenergy crops on non-agricultural lands, maximizing the production of specialty fuels and bio-products from those crops, and building a comprehensive understanding of the field-to-product pipeline to maximize the sustainability and economic benefits offered by a future cellulosic bio-industry. Together, these efforts have the potential to spur a new bio-refinery industry equipped to create valuable products from as much of a crop’s biomass as possible. 

As a university-based DOE Bioenergy Research Center, GLBRC will continue to benefit from the resources, strategic partnerships and world-class research programs at MSU and UW-Madison. 

“GLBRC’s selection demonstrates our continued excellence in clean energy research,” said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Our broad expertise in areas such as plant sciences, microbiology, economics and engineering is enabling the development of new and innovative technologies that can bring about American energy sustainability while also strengthening the economy right here at home.”

Additional university collaborators include the University of British Columbia, Texas A&M University and Michigan Technological University. 

Switchgrass harvest. Courtesy photo

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