DOE Funding Promotes the Production of Plant-Based Fuels and Chemicals

The Department of Energy has renewed the Center for Bioenergy Innovation as one of four bioenergy research centers across the nation to advance robust, economical production of plant-based fuels and chemicals.

DOE Funding Promotes the Production of Plant-Based Fuels and Chemicals.
The Center for Bioenergy Innovation’s Leadership Team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory will oversee the center’s operations as it develops bioenergy-relevant plants and microbes for sustainable jet fuel. Pictured from left in ORNL’s greenhouse facilities are CBI’s Chief Executive Officer Jerry Tuskan, Chief Finance Officer Lynn Giuliano, Chief Science Officer Brian Davison, and Chief Operations Officer Renae Speck. Image Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, US Dept. of Energy.

CBI, headed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is working to develop non-food biomass crops and specialty methods for the production of sustainable jet fuel to help decarbonize the aviation sector.

The DOE announcement will provide the centers with $590 million over the next five years. For Fiscal Year 2023, the initial funding for the four centers will be $110 million. Outyear funding could total up to $120 million per year for the next four years, depending on funding availability.

To meet our future energy needs, we will need versatile renewables like bioenergy as a low-carbon fuel for some parts of our transportation sector. Continuing to fund the important scientific work conducted at our Bioenergy Research Centers is critical to ensuring these sustainable resources can be an efficient and affordable part of our clean energy future.

Jennifer M. Granholm, US Secretary of Energy

Over the next five years, CBI’s national laboratory, university, and industry partners will take a multifaceted, expedited approach to producing sustainable jet fuel. Among the areas of emphasis are:

  • Producing perennial crops that demand less water and fertilizer while producing large amounts of biomass with desirable properties for conversion to bioproducts.
  • Developing a cost-effective, effective consolidated bioprocessing and co-treatment process that uses custom microbes to break down plants and ferment intermediate chemicals.
  • Increasing lignin extraction from plants and transforming it chemically into aviation fuel.
  • Enhancing the chemical catalyst-based conversion of intermediate bioproducts into jet fuel that can be mixed with conventional fuel will significantly decrease aircraft carbon emissions.

CBI intends to achieve Tier 1 validation for its jet biofuel, an aviation industry standard that determines whether the fuel's properties are suitable for use in existing and future aircraft fleets. The development of renewable fuels is a critical strategy for reducing CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft.

Our researchers are excited to apply the best of biology and chemistry and create sustainable jet fuel to help clean up our skies and stimulate a thriving bioeconomy. CBI’s feedstocks-to-fuels process will support upgrading carbohydrates and lignin from corn stover, process-advantaged switchgrass, and poplar biomass into a tunable portfolio of chemicals for jet biofuel.

Jerry Tuskan, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Bioenergy Innovation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The new centers build on the success of the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, which was established within the DOE’s Office of Science in 2007.

The ORNL-led CBI and its predecessor, the BioEnergy Science Center, made substantial scientific advances in their mission to develop desirable biomass feedstock crops and microbes to counteract plants’ natural resistance to being broken down and transformed into fuels and products.

CBI has authored or co-authored 449 peer-reviewed journal articles in the last five years, which have been cited 12,295 times by the scientific community. CBI produced 57 invention disclosures, 32 patent applications, four license/option agreements, and one start-up during the same time period. As a result of its efforts, the center has reached over 310,000 students, parents, and teachers.

CBI’s collaborative science model and foundational success are key to accelerating the innovation needed for widespread, sustainable, and profitable production of jet fuel from lignocellulosic feedstocks,” Stan Wullschleger, ORNL associate laboratory director for Biological and Environmental Systems Science, notes.

CBI builds on 15 years of success in applying scientific breakthroughs to meet the nation’s energy and decarbonization challenge. CBI represents the national laboratory system at its best—developing scientific solutions to benefit the nation and inspiring the next generation of scientists through unique educational outreach.

Jeff Smith, Interim Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Current partners in the next generation of CBI with ORNL include the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Brookhaven National Laboratory; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Georgia; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Dartmouth College; Poplar Innovations Inc.; Pennsylvania State University; University of California, Davis; University of California San Diego; University of Virginia; Washington State University; University of Tennessee; University of Wisconsin–Madison; and France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Center for Bioenergy Innovation

Video Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


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