Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Bill Cabage (cabagewh@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


$6.7 million kick-starts DOE BioEnergy Science Center

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Sep. 24, 2007 — The Department of Energy's new BioEnergy Science Center, to be located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will receive its first funding of $6.7 million. The fiscal year 2007 funds put the BioEnergy Science Center on a fast track to begin research on development of plant-derived biofuels. The center is one of three nationwide, part of a $375 million federal investment in basic research on biofuels.

The money comes in addition to $125 million in planned funding over five years for the new center that the Department had announced in June. The new funding will shorten the timeline for hiring new staff and purchasing equipment and will jump-start research programs planned by the center's partners. Partners include the University of Tennessee, ORNL, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, ArborGen, Dartmouth College, Verenium Corp., Mascoma Corp. and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

"Biofuels represent one of the most promising alternative energy sources," DOE Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach said. "Making them cost-effective will require transformational breakthroughs in basic science. This early infusion of funds will enable the BioEnergy Science Center to get underway immediately on the urgent quest for the breakthroughs our nation needs to usher in a new biofuels economy."

Martin Keller, director of the BioEnergy Science Center, said scientists at the facility will work on modification of plant cell walls for easier breakdown into simple sugars that can then be processed into biofuels. "This award will help us quickly get to the business of developing ways to economically make transportation fuel from plants such as switchgrass and poplar trees," said Keller. "We are anxious to begin the research."

Researchers also will focus on development of consolidated bioprocessing using a single microorganism or group of organisms to break down plant matter through a one-step conversion method.

With construction nearly complete, the Tennessee government-funded Joint Institute for Biological Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will serve as home base for the BioEnergy Science Center. The new building will be occupied by December with operations fully underway in January 2008.

BioEnergy Science Center partners Mascoma and the University of Tennessee are also developing a state-funded, $40 million bioethanol pilot plant, which has been sited about 40 miles from ORNL in Monroe County, Tenn. The plant will be built and operated by Mascoma, with construction scheduled to begin by the end of this year. Plans call for the facility to be operational in 2009.

The DOE Office of Science program in Biological and Environmental Research is in the process of establishing three such basic science research centers in bioenergy this year. A second center, under the leadership of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, will be located near Berkeley, California, while a third center, run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, will be based in Madison, Wisconsin.

For more information on the BioEnergy Science Center see www.bioenergycenter.org. ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.