By STEVE BINDER
URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois wants to further embed itself into the growing fi eld of biofuel and is in line to host a new bioenergy research center as long as Congress agrees later this year, as expected. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced late last month it would award an initial $40 million for the establishment of four biofuel centers throughout the county, with operating funding planned for each of the next four years.
The U of I facility, tentatively called the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI), would be housed at the university’s existing Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). The on-campus collaboration, in addition to the school’s 320-acre energy campus, are key reasons why the DOE selected the U of I as one of the sites for a biofuel center.
Other sites include the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin- Madison; the Center for Bioenergy Innovation at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; and the Joint Bioenergy Institute at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
At the U of I, plant biology professor Evan DeLucia would serve as CABBI’s director. DeLucia said the energy department took note of the work Illinois already has been doing in terms of bioenergy research, including through the near completion of the $32 million Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory. The DOE funded nearly 75 percent of that laboratory’s startup.
“We have a 320-acre energy farm,” he said. “As far as I know, it’s the only facility like it, at least in the United States, where we grow in a very sophisticated way these energy crops. The ecology and environmental impact of these crops is very closely monitored.”
DeLucia said he’s hopeful the new biofuel center will open as soon as December; it will be housed at theIGB and a joint project with the U of I’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment.
All four centers are designed to lay the foundation for the eventual development of a biobased economy, helping to develop a wide range of new products and fuels made from non-food-based biomass.
In a statement, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, “The revolution of modern biology has opened up vast new opportunities for the energy industry to develop and utilize products derived from biomass as a sustainable resource. These centers will accelerate the development of the basic science and technological foundation needed to ensure that American industry and the American public reap the benefi ts of the new biobased economy.”