Collaborative effort launches Sustainable Bioenergy Centre

By Susanne Retka Schill
A group of academia in the U.K. has created a �27 million ($38 million) Sustainable Bioenergy Centre through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The collaborative effort includes six research hubs at the University of Cambridge, The University of Dundee, The University of York, Rothamsted Research and two centers at the
University of Nottingham. Another seven universities and institutes, and 15 industrial partners, are contributing, as well.

Research activities will encompass multiple projects toward developing sustainable bioenergy production. Crop work will focus on improving yield and the quality of nonfood dedicated energy crops. Other project partners will target barley straw, working on altering the lignin for more efficient processing. One group will examine the marine wood borer as a source of robust enzymes, while others will work on optimizing pretreatment and fermentation strategies for lignocellulosic ethanol production. Some will work toward improving the bacterial conversion of biomass to biobutanol, while others will examine the social and economic sustainability of the various bioenergy approaches.

"The U.K. has a world-leading research base in plant and microbial science," said BBSRC Chief Executive Officer Douglas Kell. "The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre draws together some of the world's top scientists in order to help develop technology and understanding to support the sustainable bioenergy sector. The center 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 center'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 U.K."

Industry partner Graham Mackay, chief executive of SABMiller PLC, called the effort an important contribution to fighting global warming. "The benefits of biofuels have been somewhat obscured by the negative effects of purpose-grown crops," he said. "However, at SABMiller, we believe that the development of sustainable biofuel could prove to be one of the most important contributors to solving the energy and climate challenges."