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Biggest ever public investment in bioenergy to help provide clean, green and sustainable fuels

27 January 2009

The biggest ever single UK public investment in bioenergy research has been announced today by the main funding agency for the biosciences – the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

  BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre launch 27 January 2009

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Video transcript - Video and audio help - Watch video on YouTube


The £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre has been launched to provide the science to underpin and develop the important and emerging UK sustainable bioenergy sector – and to replace the petrol in our cars with fuels derived from plants.

Sustainable bioenergy offers the potential to provide a significant source of clean, low carbon and secure energy, and to generate thousands of new ‘green collar’ jobs. It uses non-food crops, such as willow, industrial and agricultural waste products and inedible parts of crops, such as straw, and so does not take products out of the food chain.

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said: "Investing £27 million in this new centre involves the single biggest UK public investment in bioenergy research. The centre is exactly the sort of initiative this country needs to lead the way in transforming the exciting potential of sustainable biofuels into a widespread technology that can replace fossil fuels.

"The centre is a great example of the UK investing in innovative areas which have the benefits of creating new green collar jobs as well as helping us to meet the global challenges of climate change and reducing carbon emissions."

The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is focussed on six research hubs of academic and industrial partners, based at each of the Universities of Cambridge, Dundee and York and Rothamsted Research and two at the University of Nottingham. Another 7 universities and institutes are involved and 15 industrial partners across the hubs are contributing around £7M of the funding.

The Centre’s research activities will encompass many different stages of bioenergy production, from widening the range of materials that can be the starting point for bioenergy to improving the crops used by making them grow more efficiently to changing plant cell walls. The Centre will also analyse the complete economic and environmental life cycle of potential sources of bioenergy.

This means the researchers will be working to make sustainable bioenergy a practical solution by improving not only the yield and quality of non-food biomass and the processes used to convert this into biofuels but ensuring that the whole system is economically and socially viable.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Prof Douglas Kell, said: "The UK has a world leading research base in plant and microbial science. The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre draws together some of these world beating scientists in order to help develop technology and understanding to support the sustainable bioenergy sector. The Centre is taking a holistic systems-level approach, examining all the relevant areas of science needed for sustainable bioenergy and studying the economic and social impact of the bioenergy process.

"By working closely with industrial partners the Centre’s scientists will be able to quickly translate their progress into practical solutions to all our benefit – and ultimately, by supporting the sustainable bioenergy sector, help to create thousands of new ‘green collar’ jobs in the UK."

ENDS

If covering this story please include a link to the Centre’s website www.bbsrc.ac.uk/bsbec

An information pack can be found in the downloads section.

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Image captions

  1. Electron Microscope cross-section of straw: Non-edible waste from agriculture, such as straw, could be used in the future as a secure, green source of fuel without taking up land needed for growing food. Scientists from the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Center, launched today (27 January), will be looking at this as one possible way to provide sustainable, environmentally friendly bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels
  2. Stained cross-section of plant stem: the sugars locked away in the stems of plants would make excellent fuel for sustainable bioenergy. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launced today (27 January), will investigate how they could be unlocked for conversion into green bioenergy
  3. Stained cross-section of plant stem: the sugars locked away in the stems of plants would make excellent fuel for sustainable bioenergy. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launced today (27 January), will investigate how they could be unlocked for conversion into green bioenergy
  4. The Gribble: This tiny seawater pest can destroy wooden boats and piers but remarkably the gut enzymes that allow it to eat wood are being harnessed by scientists in a new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January) to break down wood for conversion into green, sustainable bioenergy
  5. Energy crop research at Rothamsted Research: A new £27M BBSRC sustainable Bioenergy Centre announced today (27 January) aims to make sustainable, green bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels a reality. Optimising the yield of fast growing energy crops that are not part of the food chain is one way scientists aim to do this.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd 
  6. Miscanthus growing at Rothamsted Research: Miscanthus is a fast growing grass which produces biomass very quickly, wihtout competing with the food chain. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the yield of Miscanthus for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  7. Miscanthus growing at Rothamsted Research: Miscanthus is a fast growing grass which produces biomass very quickly, wihtout competing with the food chain. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the yield of Miscanthus for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  8. Willow is a promising energy crop that does not compete with the food chain. Research as part of the new Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the biomass yield of willow for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  9. Willow is a promising energy crop that does not compete with the food chain. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the biomass yield of willow for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  10. Energy crop research at Rothamsted Research: A new £27M BBSRC sustainable Bioenergy Centre announced today (27 January) aims to make sustainable, green bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels a reality. Optimising the yield of fast growing energy crops that are not part of the food chain is one way scientists aim to do this.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  11. Energy crop research at Rothamsted Research: A new £27M BBSRC sustainable Bioenergy Centre announced today (27 January) aims to make sustainable, green bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels a reality. Optimising the yield of fast growing energy crops that are not part of the food chain is one way scientists aim to do this.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  12. Willow is a promising energy crop that does not compete with the food chain. Research as part of the new Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the biomass yield of willow for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  13. Bioenergy from sea pests: Remarkably the little marine wood borer, or Gribble, that caused this damage could hold the secret to sustainable energy for us all. The gut enzymes that allow the bug to damage wooden sea structures such as piers will be harnessed by scientists in a new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (launched today, 27 January) to break down wood for sustainable bioenergy production
  14. Energy crop research at Rothamsted Research: A new £27M BBSRC sustainable Bioenergy Centre announced today (27 January) aims to make sustainable, green bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels a reality. Optimising the yield of fast growing energy crops that are not part of the food chain is one way scientists aim to do this.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  15. Harvested Willow at Rothamsted Research: Scientists working as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will investigate how we can maximise the yield of non-food energy crops such as willow so that sustainable bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels become a reality.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  16. Willow is a promising energy crop that does not compete with the food chain. Research as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will look at maximising the biomass yield of willow for sustainable bioenergy production.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd
  17. Harvested Willow at Rothamsted Research: Scientists working as part of the new £27M BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, launched today (27 January), will investigate how we can maximise the yield of non-food energy crops such as willow so that sustainable bioenergy replacements for fossil fuels become a reality.  Image: Rothamsted Research Ltd

Notes to editors

The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre (BSBEC) is an innovative £27M academic-industry partnership that will help to deliver the science to underpin development in this important and emerging sector. The funding of the Centre has been guided in part by the recommendations of a review of BBSRC’s bioenergy research portfolio published in 2006. The review was chaired by then Council member, Prof Douglas Kell.

The new centre is based around six research hubs of academic and industrial partners.

BSBEC provides a focus for ensuring sustainability, widening the range of materials that can be used as feedstock (raw materials) for bioenergy, changing plant cell walls, making them more amenable to breakdown and optimising fermentation to release energy.

BSBEC is made up of six hubs or programmes.

  1. BSBEC Cell Wall Lignin Programme - Improving barley straw for lignin production and transferring the new knowledge to other crops. Lignin is a polymer in plants that makes it difficult to access sugars for bioenergy production. The programme aims to alter lignin properties in barley to make it easier to produce bioenergy without reducing the quality of the crop.

    University of Dundee with associated programme members:

    • University of York
    • SCRI
    • RERAD
  2. BSBEC Cell Wall Sugars Programme - developing strategies to improve plants and enzymes for increased sugar release from biomass. The programme aims to better understand how sugars are locked into plant cell walls. By doing this we can select the right plants and the right enzymes to release the maximum amount of sugars for conversion to biofuels.

    University of Cambridge with associated programme members:

    • Newcastle University
    • Novozymes
  3. BSBEC Lignocellulosic Conversion to Bioethanol (LACE) Programme - using agricultural and wood-industry wastes to create biofuels. The programme is aiming to optimise the release of sugars from plant cell walls to produce a fermentable material to produce fuels. It will also work on microbes to efficiently turn the material into fuel.

    University of Nottingham with associated programme members:

    • University of Bath
    • University of Surrey
    • BP
    • Bioethanol Ltd
    • Briggs of Burton
    • British Sugar
    • Coors Brewers
    • DSM
    • Ethanol Technology
    • HGCA
    • Pursuit Dynamics
    • SABMiller
    • Scottish Whisky Research Institute
  4. BSBEC Marine Wood Borer Enzyme Discovery Programme - New enzymes for the conversion of non-food plant biomass into biofuels from marine wood borers. Wood and straw contain polysaccharides that if converted to simple sugars could be fermented into biofuels. At the moment we do not have suitable enzymes to break down these woody materials. However, marine wood borers consume huge amounts of woody material and their guts have all the enzymes needed to break it down. The programme aims to exploit this.

    University of York with associated programme members:

    • University of Portsmouth
    • Syngenta Biomass Traits Group
  5. BSBEC Perennial Bioenergy Crops Programme - optimising biomass yield and composition for sustainable biofuels. The programme aims to improve yields of fast growing trees and grasses and to make more of the plants' carbon available for conversion into biofuels and to do this without increasing inputs such as fertilizers.

    Rothamsted Research with associated programme members:

    • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
    • Imperial College London
    • University of Cambridge
    • Ceres
  6. BSBEC Second Generation Sustainable, Bacterial Biofuels Programme - optimising production of the more effective second generation biofuel biobutanol from non-food biomass. Biobutanol is a superior biofuel to ethanol but currently available microbes used in biobutanol production processes are inefficient, produce unwanted by-products and cannot use plant cell walls directly as a feed material. The programme aims to generate and test new bacterial strains to overcome this.

    University of Nottingham with associated programme members:

    • Newcastle University
    • TMO Renewables

Comments from industrial partners

BP Biofuels

Ian Dobson, Vice President, Technology and Strategy, BP Biofuels: "BP's biofuels business is pleased to see BBSRC supporting bioenergy research in the UK. We believe that biofuels done well, have an important contribution to make, and BBSRC programmes will help contribute to advancing this reality."

SABMiller

Graham Mackay, Chief Executive of SABMiller Plc said: "The benefits of biofuels have been somewhat obscured by the negative effects of purpose-grown crops. However, at SABMiller we believe that the development of sustainable biofuel could prove to be one of the most important contributors to solving the energy and climate challenges."

Ceres Inc.

Dr. Richard Flavell, FRS, CBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Ceres, Inc., a developer and marketer of bioenergy crops for biofuel and biopower production, said that bringing together both public and industrial resources could cut years off introduction timelines for these new bioenergy crops, and lead to better results. He noted that with research into higher yields and optimal management techniques, perennial bioenergy crops, such as miscanthus and willow that are the focus of the new Bioenergy Centre, should result in soil carbon sequestration on a scale not achieved by other renewable resources, and thus contribute valuable environmental benefits.

"The U.K. bioenergy industry is ready to move forward, from making individual technologies work on a small-scale to putting together a sustainable, full-scale production and delivery chain. The new Bioenergy Centre will be a catalyst for bringing together the diverse technologies and perspectives needed to make the government's aim a viable reality," said Dr. Flavell. "We are excited about working more closely with such leading members of the crop science and renewable energy communities."

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382