Newswise — WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today awarded $45.5 million for research projects geared towards understanding and harnessing nature’s biological processes to produce clean biofuels and bioproducts. This research will push the boundaries of biology and biotechnology research, while helping to enhance America’s energy security and build its clean energy economy.

Biofuels that can power planes and ships, and bioproducts made from renewable resources will play a critical role in decarbonizing our economy—and today’s awardees will help us understand, predict, and even design them at the cellular level, so that we can unlock their full potential,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Led by the unparalleled scientific capabilities at DOE’s National Labs and America’s world-leading research universities, these projects will help us develop low-carbon products that drive economic growth while building a more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren.”

Biofuels and bioproducts are produced by converting biomass—made up of recently-living organic materials like crop waste, food waste, and algae—and other waste resources into valuable low-carbon alternatives to products such as fossil-based fuels, plastics, and construction materials.

These projects are sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) within DOE’s Office of Science. The BER program supports scientific research on complex biological, earth, and environmental systems to advance the nation’s energy and infrastructure security. Over the last three decades, BER has helped map the human genome, laid the foundation for modern biotechnology, and pioneered the initial research on atmospheric and ocean circulation that eventually led to climate and Earth system models. BER research has also made considerable advances in biology underpinning the production of biofuels and bioproducts, spearheaded progress in genome sequencing, and strengthened the predictive capabilities of ecosystem and global scale models using the world’s fastest computers.

Awardees will pursue research in the following topic areas:

  • Re-engineering microbes for converting plant biomass and synthetic polymers into valuable biofuels and bioproducts—21 projects will research the development of microbes—single-celled microscopic organisms—and their potential to produce biofuels and other bioproducts from renewable resources. Researchers will also study processes to convert synthetic polymers, like plastic, into new bio-based products. These projects build upon over a decade of DOE-supported advances in genomics and computational biology to generate biofuels and chemical building blocks for bioproducts. (Total award amount: $31 million)
  • Developing new imaging capabilities to study plants and microorganisms to advance biofuel and bioproduct production—13 awards across 7 projects will develop new imaging capabilities to depict cellular processes in plants and microorganisms, in order to further scientists’ understanding of their genetic makeup to advance the production of biofuels and bioproducts from renewable plant biomass. Improved imaging techniques will help researchers validate their hypotheses of how cells function, and produce new predictive models of cellular metabolism. (Total award amount: $14.5 million)

More information and the lists of projects for both funding opportunities can be found on the BER page under the heading “What’s New.”