The Center for Bioenergy Innovation has been renewed by the Department of Energy as one of four bioenergy research centers across the nation to advance robust, economical production of plant-based fuels and chemicals. CBI, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is focused on the development of nonfood biomass crops and specialty processes for the production of sustainable jet fuel to help decarbonize the aviation sector.
The DOE announcement provides $590 million to the centers over the next five years. Initial funding for the four centers will total $110 million for Fiscal Year 2023. Outyear funding will total up to $120 million per year over the following four years, contingent on availability of funds.
“To meet our future energy needs, we will need versatile renewables like bioenergy as a low-carbon fuel for some parts of our transportation sector,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “Continuing to fund the important scientific work conducted at our Bioenergy Research Centers is critical to ensuring these sustainable resources can be an efficient and affordable part of our clean energy future.”
CBI’s national laboratory, university and industry partners will take a multipronged, accelerated approach over the next five years to producing sustainable jet fuel. Focus areas include:
- Developing perennial crops that require less water and fertilizer and yield high amounts of biomass with the desired qualities for conversion to bioproducts.
- Refining an efficient, cost-effective consolidated bioprocessing and co-treatment process using custom microbes to break down plants and ferment intermediate chemicals.
- Advancing the extraction of lignin from plants and chemically converting it into aviation fuel.
- Improving the chemical catalyst-based upgrading of intermediate bioproducts into jet fuel that can be blended with conventional fuel to significantly reduce aircraft carbon emissions.
CBI intends to reach Tier 1 validation of its jet biofuel, an aviation industry standard that determines the fuel’s properties are fit-for-purpose in existing and future airplane fleets. The development of renewable fuels is a key strategy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from commercial aircraft.
“Our researchers are excited to apply the best of biology and chemistry and create sustainable jet fuel to help clean up our skies and stimulate a thriving bioeconomy,” said ORNL’s Jerry Tuskan, CBI chief executive officer. “CBI’s feedstocks-to-fuels process will support upgrading carbohydrates and lignin from corn stover, process-advantaged switchgrass and poplar biomass into a tunable portfolio of chemicals for jet biofuel.”
The new centers follow the success of pioneering bioenergy research centers established by DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science in 2007.
The ORNL-led CBI and its predecessor, the BioEnergy Science Center, demonstrated significant scientific breakthroughs in their mission to design ideal biomass feedstock crops and microbes to overcome the natural resistance of plants to being broken down and converted into fuels and products. In the last five years, CBI authored or co-authored 449 peer-reviewed journal articles that were cited 12,295 times by the scientific community. In the same period CBI generated 57 invention disclosures, 32 patent applications, four license/option agreements and one start-up. The center has also reached more than 310,000 students, parents and teachers as a result of its educational outreach programs.
“CBI’s collaborative science model and foundational success are key to accelerating the innovation needed for widespread, sustainable and profitable production of jet fuel from lignocellulosic feedstocks,” said Stan Wullschleger, ORNL associate laboratory director for Biological and Environmental Systems Science.
“CBI builds on 15 years of success in applying scientific breakthroughs to meet the nation’s energy and decarbonization challenge,” said interim ORNL Director Jeff Smith. “CBI represents the national laboratory system at its best—developing scientific solutions to benefit the nation and inspiring the next generation of scientists through unique educational outreach.”
Current partners in the next generation of CBI with ORNL include the University of Georgia; National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Dartmouth College; University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Brookhaven National Laboratory; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Poplar Innovations Inc.; Pennsylvania State University; University of California, Davis; University of California San Diego; University of Tennessee; University of Wisconsin–Madison; University of Virginia; Washington State University; and France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment.
UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science.energy.gov/.