The biggest ever single UK public investment in bioenergy research has been announced today by the main funding agency for the biosciences – the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).The £27 Mio. (about €29 Mio. Euro) BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre has been launched to provide the science to underpin and develop the important and emerging UK sustainable bioenergy sector – and to replace the petrol in our cars with fuels derived from plants.
|Energy crop research at Rothamsted Research:
Optimising the yield of fast growing energy
crops that are not part of the food chain is
one way scientists aim to make sustainable,
green bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels
Sustainable bioenergy offers the potential to provide a significant source of clean, low carbon and secure energy, and to generate thousands of “new green collar” jobs. It uses non-food crops, such as willow, industrial and agricultural waste products and inedible parts of crops, such as straw, and so does not take products out of the food chain.
Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said: “Investing £27 million in this new centre involves the single biggest UK public investment in bioenergy research. The centre is exactly the sort of initiative this country needs to lead the way in transforming the exciting potential of sustainable biofuels into a widespread technology that can replace fossil fuels.
“The centre is a great example of the UK investing in innovative areas which have the benefits of creating new green collar jobs as well as helping us to meet the global challenges of climate change and reducing carbon emissions.”
The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is focussed on six research hubs of academic and industrial partners, based at each of the Universities of Cambridge, Dundee and York and Rothamsted Research and two at the University of Nottingham. Another 7 universities and institutes are involved and 15 industrial partners across the hubs are contributing around £7M of the funding.
The Centre’s research activities will encompass many different stages of bioenergy production, from widening the range of materials that can be the starting point for bioenergy to improving the crops used by making them grow more efficiently to changing plant cell walls. The Centre will also analyse the complete economic and environmental life cycle of potential sources of bioenergy.
This means the researchers will be working to make sustainable bioenergy a practical solution by improving not only the yield and quality of non-food biomass and the processes used to convert this into biofuels but ensuring that the whole system is economically and socially viable.
BBSRC Chief Executive, Prof Douglas Kell, said: “The UK has a world leading research base in plant and microbial science. The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre draws together some of these world beating scientists in order to help develop technology and understanding to support the sustainable bioenergy sector. The Centre is taking a holistic systems-level approach, examining all the relevant areas of science needed for sustainable bioenergy and studying the economic and social impact of the bioenergy process.
“By working closely with industrial partners the Centre’s scientists will be able to quickly translate their progress into practical solutions to all our benefit – and ultimately, by supporting the sustainable bioenergy sector, help to create thousands of new green collar jobs in the UK.”
BSBEC is made up of six hubs or programmes:
- BSBEC Cell Wall Lignin Programme – Improving barley straw for lignin production and transferring the new knowledge to other crops. Lignin is a polymer in plants that makes it difficult to access sugars for bioenergy production. The programme aims to alter lignin properties in barley to make it easier to produce bioenergy without reducing the quality of the crop.
(University of Dundee with the associated programme members University of York, SCRI and RERAD)
- BSBEC Cell Wall Sugars Programme – developing strategies to improve plants and enzymes for increased sugar release from biomass. The programme aims to better understand how sugars are locked into plant cell walls. By doing this we can select the right plants and the right enzymes to release the maximum amount of sugars for conversion to biofuels. (University of Cambridge with the associated programme members Newcastle University and Novozymes)
- BSBEC Lignocellulosic Conversion to Bioethanol (LACE) Programme – using agricultural and wood-industry wastes to create biofuels. The programme is aiming to optimise the release of sugars from plant cell walls to produce a fermentable material to produce fuels. It will also work on microbes to efficiently turn the material into fuel. (University of Nottingham with the associated programme members University of Bath, University of Surrey, BP, Bioethanol Ltd, Briggs of Burton, British Sugar, Coors Brewers, DSM, Ethanol Technology, HGCA, Pursuit Dynamics, SABMiller and Scottish Whisky Research Institute)
- BSBEC Marine Wood Borer Enzyme Discovery Programme – New enzymes for the conversion of non-food plant biomass into biofuels from marine wood borers. Wood and straw contain polysaccharides that if converted to simple sugars could be fermented into biofuels. At the moment we do not have suitable enzymes to break down these woody materials. However, marine wood borers consume huge amounts of woody material and their guts have all the enzymes needed to break it down. The programme aims to exploit this. (University of York with the associated programme members University of Portsmouth and Syngenta Biomass Traits Group)
- BSBEC Perennial Bioenergy Crops Programme – optimising biomass yield and composition for sustainable biofuels. The programme aims to improve yields of fast growing trees and grasses and to make more of the plants’ carbon available for conversion into biofuels and to do this without increasing inputs such as fertilizers. (Rothamsted Research with the associated programme members Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Imperial College London, University of Cambridge and Ceres)
- BSBEC Second Generation Sustainable, Bacterial Biofuels Programme – optimising production of the more effective second generation biofuel biobutanol from non-food biomass. Biobutanol is a superior biofuel to ethanol but currently available microbes used in biobutanol production processes are inefficient, produce unwanted by-products and cannot use plant cell walls directly as a feed material. The programme aims to generate and test new bacterial strains to overcome this.(University of Nottingham with the associated programme members Newcastle University and TMO Renewables)
Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), press release, 2009-01-27.