ORNL-led team wins DOE bioenergy center

ntinue to play a leading role in addressing one of the nations biggest scientific challenges.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen noted that the DOE award comes two weeks after approval by the state legislature of a $61 million package for bioenergy research at ORNL and the University of Tennessee. The appropriation includes construction of a 5 million gallon-per-year pilot plant for demonstration of switchgrass-to-ethanol conversion based upon research at the DOE Bioenergy Science Center. These two investments together position Tennessee and the South to be among the leaders in the emerging field of bioenergy, Bredesen said.

John Petersen, president of the University of Tennessee, said, The University of Tennessee is excited to be part of the DOE Bioenergy Science Center team. The centers cutting edge research will leverage the state of Tennessee investments in biofuels and make a lasting contribution to the nations energy security.

The ORNL-led project will focus on new methods of processing plants into biofuel. The strategy involves breaking down into simple sugars the lattice of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin that makes plant cell walls resistant to the stress of weather, insects and disease. These sugars can then be processed into fuel. To date, no cost effective bioprocessing methods for cellulose-based bioenergy sources have been developed. The DOE Bioenergy Science Center will focus on achieving the specific goals of:

  • Modifying plant cell walls to reduce their resistance to breakdown, with a focus on the poplar treewhose genome ORNL researchers helped sequence last yearand switchgrass, a native grass that can be easily grown in most of the U.S. Such modification would decrease or eliminate the need for costly chemical pretreatments now required.

  • Consolidated bioprocessing, which involves the use of a single microorganism or group of organisms to break down plant matter through a one-step conversi

Contact: Larisa Brass
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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