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Energy institute will put Illinois at forefront of farm bioenergy production

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 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 sector."

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 friendl
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2-Feb-2007


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