Wednesday U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman announced that DOE will spend $250 million to establish and operate two new Bioenergy Research Centers to accelerate basic research on the development of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels.
Universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms are eligible to compete for an award to establish and operate a center. Awards, based on evaluation by scientific peer review, will be announced next summer. The centers are expected to begin work in 2008 and will be fully operational by 2009.
The Secretary made the announcement with Congressman Jerry Weller, local officials and biofuels stakeholders during a visit to Channahon, IL.
Four billion gallons of ethanol were produced this year, mainly from corn. EPAct requires that by 2012, at least 7.5 billion gallons per year of renewable fuel be blended into the nation's fuel supply. To meet these goals, future biofuels production will require the use of more diverse feedstocks including cellulosic material such as agricultural residues, grasses and other inedible plants.
The centers' mission will be to conduct systems biology research on microbes and plants, with the goal of harnessing nature's own powerful mechanisms for producing energy from sunlight. A major focus will be on understanding how to reengineer biological processes for more efficient conversion of plant fiber, or cellulose, into ethanol, a substitute for gasoline.
The announcement of the Bioenergy Research Centers initiative culminates a six-year-long effort by the DOE Office of Science to lay the foundation for breakthroughs in systems biology for the cost-effective production of renewable energy. In early July, 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. The report provides a detailed roadmap for cellulosic ethanol research, identifying key roadblocks and areas where scientific breakthroughs are needed.
The proposal deadline for this funding opportunity is February 1, 2007. DOE's Office of Science will provide $25 million in the first year for the establishment of each center and up to $25 million per year for the following four years to support the operations of each center - for a total award of up to $125 million per center. Additional details on the funding opportunity and the centers' objectives are available at www.doegenomestolife.org/center.