Initiative will put Illinois at forefront of farm bioenergy
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[FEB. 15, 2007]
CHAMPAIGN -- A $500 million research program
announced Feb. 1 by the energy company BP will bring farm bioenergy
production to Illinois on a grand scale, say researchers at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Illinois will join the
University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory in forming the new Energy Biosciences Institute,
with UC Berkeley taking the lead.
As part of the EBI, some 340 acres of farmland at the Urbana
campus will be devoted to the study and production of feedstock
for biofuel production. Researchers will explore the potential
benefits of using corn crop residues, switchgrass, Miscanthus (Miscanthus
x giganticus: a hybrid grass that can grow 13 feet tall) and
other herbaceous perennials as fuel sources. The initiative will
explore how adequate supplies of high-quality plant biomass can
be sustainably produced and used in facilities that convert the
biomass to fuels.
"The proposal from UC Berkeley and its partners was selected
in large part because these institutions have excellent track
records of delivering 'Big Science' -- large and complex
developments predicated on both scientific breakthroughs and
engineering applications that can be deployed in the real
world," said BP Group Chief Executive John Browne. "This program
will further both basic and applied biological research relevant
to energy. In short, it will create the discipline of energy
biosciences. The institute will be unique in both its scale and
its partnership between BP, academia and others in the private
Previous support, from the Illinois Council for Food and
Agricultural Research, enabled U of I scientists to pioneer
research in the use of Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop.
The researchers have found that this hardy perennial grass is
more than twice as productive as switchgrass, another biofuel
source. This makes Miscanthus a front-runner in the effort to
find an economical and environmentally friendly fuel source.
Illinois will also work with its partners in the EBI to
explore the economic and environmental impact of the process --
from farmland to fuel consumption. Understanding and reducing
the environmental impacts of biofuel production will be a key
"This will place us at the forefront of farm bioenergy
production," said Stephen P. Long, the Robert Emerson Professor
of crop sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and
Environmental Sciences and a professor of plant biology in the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
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Long, who also has appointments at the National Center for
Supercomputing Applications and the Institute for Genomic Biology,
will lead the EBI initiative for Illinois. Laboratories and offices
for the Illinois operation will be in the new IGB facility on
Gregory Drive in Urbana.
Feedstock development is one of five research areas at the EBI.
The others are biomass depolymerization (breaking down plant
material for use in biofuels), fossil fuel bioprocessing (converting
heavy hydrocarbons to cleaner fuels) and carbon sequestration
(removing or preventing increases in atmospheric carbon),
socioeconomic systems (social and economic issues related to these
new technologies), and biofuels production. Discovery and
development research centers at each site will support the
In addition to feedstock development and socioeconomic research,
Illinois will work with the other research institutions on biofuels
production. UC Berkeley will lead this part of the project, with
Illinois joining the search for the most efficient use of microbes
to harvest the energy in plants for biofuels.
U of I Chancellor Richard Herman thanked BP for engaging the two
universities in what he called a noble enterprise.
"This exciting venture allows two of the country's greatest
public universities to work together to develop renewable energy --
an initiative that will play a critical role in the success and
security of our nation," Herman said. "Addressing the problems
facing society is the business of our institution. The scientists
leading this important work are continuing Illinois' rich heritage
of paradigm-changing discovery and innovation."
(Text copied from
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau release)