We are grateful for the support of our sponsors the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), BP, Ceres, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center. As always, Nature carries sole responsibility for all editorial content.
BBSRC invests around £11M pa on fundamental and applied science underpinning bioenergy, including potential transformative technologies from algal transformations and photosynthesis, carbon partitioning and fermentation, as well as in underpinning activities such as systems biology and bioinformatics.
We fund projects with both near- and long-term objectives, recognizing that high value industries must move away from nonrenewable, fossil-based systems. In 2009 we formed the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, BSBEC http://www.bsbec.bbsrc.ac.uk/, a major investment with industrial partners that comprises leading laboratories, and focuses on all stages of biofuel production.
* Improvement of willow and Miscanthus as primary feedstocks for Europe;
* Studies on barley to identify new genetic variation affecting biofuel
production, to guide breeding of bioenergy crops;
* Improvements in processing and fermentation of wheat straw;
* Life cycle analyses of energy ratios, and greenhouse gas accounting;
* Analyses of cell walls and enzymes that can digest them to sugars more
* Synthetic biology approaches to design a bacterium to make butanol from cellulose.
BBSRC's international research collaborations include links across the EU, USA, Brazil and China, aimed at catalysing discoveries for biofuel production for application up to several decades ahead.
In 2005, BP announced a plan to invest $8 billion in Alternative Energy over 10 years. We're on track to meet that commitment by building commercially viable low-carbon energy businesses, including several biofuels ventures with real potential.
We've got a clear vision for our biofuels business. We aim to research, develop and produce sustainable biofuels - clean, reliable alternatives to fossil fuels for transport that deliver real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and help to improve security of energy supply. We believe the science and technology needed to make our vision a reality is already in place.
BP's biofuels projects include:
* Producing ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil - the most efficient biofuel feedstock available today - at operational mills in Goiás and Minas Gerais states in south-central Brazil;
* Development and commercialization of the advanced fuel molecule biobutanol;
* Commercializing cellulosic ethanol made from dedicated energy grasses. We have a demonstration facility in the US and the first commercial facility will be located in Highlands County, Florida;
* Vivergo Fuels, a bioethanol joint venture currently under construction in the UK;
* Collaborating with Martek Biosciences Corporation on a potential step-change technology to create biodiesel from sugars;
* Working with the Energy Biosciences Institute in the US, to which BP has provided $500 million of funding over 10 years, to find options for sustainable biofuels feedstocks, processes and fuel molecules and to study the social and economic impacts of biofuels production.
Ceres, Inc. (www.ceres.net) is a leading developer of energy crops that can be planted as raw materials for advanced biofuels, biopower and bio-based products. Its development efforts include sweet sorghum, high-biomass sorghum, switchgrass and miscanthus. The company markets its sorghum and switchgrass seed under its Blade Energy Crops brand; it also licenses its technology and traits to other organizations. Ceres has a state-of-the-art genomics laboratory facility at its headquarters in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a large research and plant breeding facility near College Station, Texas, and a subsidiary office in Piracicaba, Brazil to support its sweet sorghum commercialization activities in Brazil. The company has established one of the largest field trialing and improvement networks for energy grasses in the world, spanning more than 20 states and 10 countries, and including many leading universities and institutions. Its breeding strategies increasingly rely on state-of-the-art genomics, to discover the genes behind valuable traits and chromosomal markers to facilitate efficient selection of traits. Its biotech pipeline includes genes that enhance nitrogen use efficiency and water use efficiency as well as genes that aid growth on salty and other marginal soils.
FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation, has a special program for research on bioenergy, BIOEN (http://www.fapesp.br/en/bioen), which articulates public and private R&D using academic and industrial laboratories to advance and apply knowledge related to ethanol production in Brazil. BIOEN includes 229 investigators conducting 55 research projects with more than 50 researchers from 13 collaborating countries.
The BIOEN Program includes five divisions:
a. Biomass Research (including sugarcane plant improvement and farming);
b. Biofuel Industrial Technologies;
c. Bio-refineries Technologies and Alcohol Chemistry;
d. Ethanol Applications for Motor Vehicles: Otto cycle engines and fuel cells;
e. Research on Impacts: Social and economic, environmental studies, land use, intellectual property.
BIOEN has a solid core of academic exploratory research. These exploratory activities will generate new knowledge and form scientists and professionals for advancing industry and government capacity in ethanol related technologies.
FAPESP has partnerships with industry for cooperative R&D in BIOEN, including Braskem, Dedini and Oxiteno. Other Brazilian research agencies participate, as the Ministry for Science and Technology, the National Development Bank (BNDES), and FAPEMIG. International partnerships include BBSRC (UK), the European Commission, ORNL (U.S.) and BE-Basic (The Netherlands).
FAPESP is accepting research proposals for BIOEN, including for the Young Investigator Award Program (http://www.fapesp.br/en/yia).
U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center
The BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science. BESC is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and focuses on the fundamental understanding and elimination of biomass recalcitrance - the resistance of cellulosic biomass to enzymatic breakdown into sugars. BESC is an assembled team of world leaders in their fields from 19 different institutions and have built a culture of integration and collaboration that has significantly accelerated the rate of scientific discovery and application.
BESC approaches the problem of biomass recalcitrance from two directions by closely linking (1) plant research to make cell walls easier to deconstruct and (2) microbial research to develop multitalented biocatalysts tailor-made to produce biofuels from this modified plant material in a single step.