DOE, Agriculture Department Fund Bioenergy Crop Research

August 17, 2011

DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on August 11 that they have awarded 10 grants totaling $12.2 million to spur research into growing biofuel and bioenergy crops. The 10 projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia. The investments are part of a broader administration effort to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels.

Overall, the projects are designed to improve special crops to be grown for biofuels—including selected trees and grasses—by increasing their yield, quality, and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on poplar trees and three grasses—switchgrass, Miscanthus and Brachypodium—among other plants. The potential benefits of this research range from decreasing oil imports to increasing options for American farmers. Because these crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production. See the DOE press release and the project descriptionsPDF.

Also on August 11, DOE reported that a team of researchers at its BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have pinpointed the exact, single gene that controls ethanol production capacity in a microorganism. This discovery could be the missing link in developing biomass crops that produce higher concentrations of ethanol at lower costs. BESC is led by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers. See the DOE press release.