Thanks to a $125 million Department of Energy grant over the course of five years a new bioenergy research center will take root in the Midwest. At the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientists and engineers will conduct basic research toward a suite of new technologies to help convert cellulosic plant biomass — cornstalks, wood chips and perennial native grasses — to sources of energy for everything from cars to electrical power plants.

The DOE grant was awarded to a consortium of universities, DOE national laboratories and businesses led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was one of three major grants announced earlier this week. The other two DOE Bioenergy Research Centers are the DOEBioEnergyResearchCenter, led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

"These centers will provide the transformational science needed for bioenergy breakthroughs to advance President Bush's goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012 and assist in reducing America's gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years," Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman says. "The collaborations of academic, corporate, and national laboratory researchers represented by these centers are truly impressive, and I am very encouraged by the potential they hold for advancing America's energy security."

"The funding of this center provides a unique opportunity for Wisconsin and the Midwest to be leaders in the process that transforms the way we produce and use energy," says Tim Donohue, the UW-Madison professor of bacteriology who, with Michigan State University (MSU) professor Ken Keegstra, helped orchestrate the initiative to secure the new award.

The new DOE center, which will be based in Madison, will bring together scientists from Wisconsin; MSU; Lucigen, a Madison-area biotechnology company; the Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National Laboratories; and the University of Florida, among others.

The researchers at the DOE GLBRC will focus on breeding new varieties of biomass plants, developing new processing techniques and agents from microbes for breaking down cellulose, improving the microbial and chemical processes that convert biomass to energy products, providing an environmental and economic framework for sustaining the biomass-to-fuel pipeline, and integrating new technologies — including genomics and new computational methods — into bioenergy research.

For information about the three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers, go to: http://www.science.doe.gov/News_Information/News_Room/2007/Bioenergy_Research_Centers/index.htm.

Universityof Wisconsin