To focus the most advanced biotechnology-based resources on the challenges of biofuel production, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) in September 2007, with a second 5-year phase beginning in 2012. Each center represents an integrative, multidisciplinary partnership with expertise spanning the physical, chemical, biological, and computational sciences, including genomics, microbial and plant biology, analytical chemistry, computational biology and bioinformatics, and engineering. The scientific rationale for these centers and for other fundamental genomic research critical to the biofuel industry was established at a DOE workshop involving members of the research community.
The BRCs are structured to facilitate knowledge sharing among multiple disciplines so that breakthroughs in one area can be capitalized on and translated to other areas of emphasis. In these integrated and collaborative environments, the BRCs pursue the necessary fundamental research to improve the processes needed for large-scale, cost-effective production of advanced biofuels from cellulosic biomass. Additionally, as each center approaches biofuel production challenges from different angles, the types of knowledge gained are multiplied, new questions opened up, and new avenues of research pursued, ultimately accelerating the pathway to improving and scaling up biofuel production processes.
The ultimate goal for the three DOE BRCs is to provide the fundamental science to underpin a cost-effective, advanced cellulosic biofuels industry. Using systems biology approaches, the BRCs are focusing on new strategies to reduce the impact of key cost-driving processes in the overall production of cellulosic biofuels from biomass. For these biofuels to be adopted on a large scale, they must represent environmentally sustainable and economically competitive alternatives to existing fuel systems. New strategies and findings emanating from the centers' fundamental research are addressing three grand challenges for cost-effective advanced biofuels production:
The Centers are supported by multidisciplinary teams of top scientists from the nation’s leading universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and a range of private companies. The three Centers are located in geographically distinct areas and use different plants both for laboratory research and for improving feedstock crops.
The complexity of the three biological grand challenges that must be overcome to achieve industrial-scale bioenergy production requires the coordinated pursuit of numerous research approaches to ensure timely success. Collectively, the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers provide a portfolio of diverse and complementary scientific strategies that address these challenges on a scale far greater than any effort to date. See the BRC Research Strategies page for more information.