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Initiative will put Illinois
at forefront of farm bioenergy production
Life Sciences Editor
Team Leader for News & Public Affairs
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
photo to enlarge
by David Riecks
of I. scientists have pioneered research in the
use of Miscanthus – which can grow 13
feet tall – as a bioenergy crop.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A
$500 million research program announced today 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 utilized 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.
photo to enlarge
by David Riecks
P. Long, the
Robert Emerson Professor of crop sciences,
will lead the Energy Biosciences Institute initiative
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 focus.
“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.
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), socio-economic systems (social and
economic issues related to these new technologies) and biofuels production.
Discovery and development research centers at each site will support
the scientific divisions.
In addition to feedstock development and socio-economic 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.”
To reach Stephen P. Long, call 217-333-2487; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More about U. of I. Miscanthus research.