Multiple societal benefits underlie U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research efforts to support a viable and sustainable domestic nonfood lignocellulosic plant biomass biofuel and bioproducts industry. These benefits include ensuring future energy security, lowering greenhouse gases to mitigate climate impacts, diversifying the range of available biobased products, producing fewer toxic chemicals and byproducts, creating jobs in rural areas, and improving the trade balance.
The resistance of lignocellulose to degradation (called recalcitrance) and lack of efficient methods to convert it to useful products are major impediments to the cost-effective production of fuels and chemicals from plant biomass. Innovation stemming from advanced biotechnology-based research is key to accelerating needed improvements in the sustainable production of lignocellulosic biomass, its deconstruction into sugars and lignin byproducts, and conversion to biofuels beyond ethanol (i.e., advanced biofuels) and bioproducts.
A new phase in bioproduct and bioenergy research was announced in July 2017 with the establishment of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), which will provide the scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.
The centers—each led by a DOE National Laboratory or a top university—are designed to lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy that promises to yield a range of important new products and fuels derived directly from nonfood biomass. Initial funding for the four centers will total $40 million for FY 2018, with plans for a total of five years of funding. See also DOE Announcement.
|Conduct long-term studies of producing bioenergy crops on marginal land.||Design improved dedicated bioenergy crops.||Develop renewable biomass deconstruction and separation strategies.||Develop novel biomass conversion microbes.|
and nutrient use in dedicated bioenergy crops.
|Create multiomics tools for developing high-yield bioenergy crops.||Advance integrated and consolidated thermophilic bioprocessing.||Generate drop-in biofuels and bioproducts from biomass and lignin residues.|
|Study environmental resilience of engineered bioenergy crops.||Engineer plants for atom-economical conversion into biofuels and bioproducts.||Develop feedstock agnostic biomass deconstruction processes using renewable ionic liquids||Develop high-throughput synthetic biology tools and hosts for scalable, atom-economical biofuels and bioproducts.|
|Integrate economic and environmental analyses for biomass supply.||Develop “plants as factories” concept for biofuels and bioproducts.||Develop product separation technologies for in planta production.||Establish automated biofoundry concept for fuels and bioproducts.|
Over 10 years (2007-2017), three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), supported by the Genomic Science program within DOE’s Office of Science Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), made significant advances toward this new biobased economy. They produced multiple breakthroughs in the form of deepened understanding of sustainable biomass production practices, targeted reengineering of biomass feedstocks, development of new methods for deconstructing feedstocks, and engineering of microbes for more effective production of a diverse range of biofuels.
In all, these three BRCs produced 2,696 peer-reviewed publications, 619 invention disclosures, 397 patent applications, 199 licenses or options, 101 patents, and 14 company startups (see figure, DOE BRCs, Progress Through the First 10 Years). Through this work, they transferred substantial insight and expertise to industry through cooperation with both large and small companies.