URBANA, Ill. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is doubling down on energy research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, funding a multimillion-dollar Bioenergy Research Center to provide scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective biofuels and bioproducts.
Earlier today, the DOE announced the $104-million center, pending Congressional appropriation. The Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) is a collaboration between Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). Scientists from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) will lead two of the major research themes. The center will also include 16 partner institutions. Evan H. DeLucia, the G. William Arends Professor of Plant Biology and Baum Family Director of iSEE, will serve as CABBI Director.
“As the United States seeks energy independence, we need to look at the most efficient ways to grow, transform, and market biofuels,” DeLucia said. “This grant is a game-changer, and CABBI will be at the forefront as we press toward a new bio-based economy. Our center’s holistic approach will generate new products directly from biomass, reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and making us more secure.”
DeLucia said iSEE will coordinate and integrate field work off campus and at the Illinois Energy Farm — “a globally unique, 320-acre site that enables researchers to trial promising biofuel feedstocks at scale.
“And we will use another state-of-the-art facility of national importance: the nearly complete, $32-million Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL), which is a direct result of state investment in the future of bioenergy research.”
CABBI will develop new versions of Miscanthus and other bioenergy feedstocks using a three-pronged approach including feedstock development, conversion, and sustainability. Stephen Moose, a professor in the Department of Crop Sciences, will lead the feedstock development theme, integrating recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and computational biology to increase the value of biomass crops.
Huimin Zhao, the Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering, will head up the conversion theme, developing a versatile, automated “biofoundry” for engineering microbial strains that can efficiently produce diverse, high-value molecules such as biodiesel, organic acids, jet fuels, lubricants, and alcohols.
The sustainability theme will be led by Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor in Environmental Economics in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Researchers will provide an overarching framework for viewing outcomes from the feedstocks and conversion themes through an environmental and economic lens.
“We look forward to a day when we will have sustainable and economically sound production of fuels and chemicals from plants,” DeLucia said. “A vibrant bioeconomy based on plant products will enhance the economic and ecological resilience of U.S. agriculture.”
The feedstocks theme will be at the cutting edge of bioenergy crop production, said Kim Kidwell, Dean of the College of ACES, which is providing significant field space, lab space, and researchers for CABBI.
“We have truly set our sights on the future of agriculture, from the genomic level to crops in the field to final products that will play a significant role in our nation’s energy profile,” Kidwell said.
“The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers the strong leadership and research capabilities to help the Department of Energy foster the production of specialty biofuels and other bioproducts from plants to support a more bio-based economy,” said U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. “Federal investment in projects like this increases our energy security and grows our economy.”
Said U.S. Rep. Rodney L. Davis, R-Ill.: “Agriculture research like that done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is important to the future of farming and feeding the world. I’m excited about this grant and the new research and developments it will lead to. As Chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Research and the Co-chair of the Congressional Agricultural Research Caucus, I continue to work with the University of Illinois to ensure agriculture research is a national priority.”
Read more about the CABBI project at the iSEE website.