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Danforth Plant Science Center Awarded Major Bioenergy Grant From US Department Of Energy

Tue, 10/11/2011 - 8:28am
EurekAlert

ST. LOUIS, MO, October 11, 2011 - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $5.5 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to develop the oilseed plant camelina (Camelina sativa) as a sustainable source of biofuel. Sixty grants, totaling $156 million, were awarded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), an agency within the DOE, for cutting-edge energy technology projects aimed at dramatically improving how the U.S. produces biofuels. Camelina has great potential to serve as a replacement for petroleum-based fuels, and for other industrial applications.

Specifically, the $5.5 million grant will support research led by investigators associated with the Danforth Center's Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels team to develop an enhanced variety of camelina that produces more oil per acre. Camelina will be enhanced to allow the plant to use light more efficiently, increase its carbon uptake, and divert more energy to the production of oil, which is stored in seeds and is convertible to fuels. The goal of this three-year project is to combine these properties into an improved variety of Camelina.

"This research project represents the leveraging of American agricultural biotechnology to create jobs and spur economic growth by promoting 'home-grown' renewable fuel alternatives to supplant foreign petroleum dependencies," said Dr. Jan Jaworski, member, Danforth Plant Science Center, and principal investigator of the project. "The application process for the grant was very competitive. We put together a strong team and are pleased to have been selected," he added.

The research team also includes two investigators at the Danforth Center; Dr. Sam Wang, member and Dr. Douglas Allen, assistant member and Research Computational Biologist with the USDA, and four scientists from Michigan State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Montana State University and the New Mexico Consortium.

The Enterprise Institute has received significant funding for algal biofuels research. The new ARPA-E grant funds the Danforth Center's expansion of activities in the Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels. With the arrival of Dr. Thomas Brutnell as the new director, the Institute is expanding its research focus to include other crop plants like camelina and grasses that can be used as sources of next-generation biofuels. The ARPA-E Award comes on the heels of several recent grants awarded to Dr. Brutnell and Dr. Todd Mockler who joined the faculty on August 15 as an Associate Member. Dr. Brutnell and collaborators at Cornell University were recently awarded $2 million from the DOE to support studies of cell wall biosynthesis in model grasses. Brutnell also receives support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop genetic resources for Setaria viridis, an emerging model system that is closely related to biofuel feedstocks such as switchgrass and Miscanthaus and is being used by Brutnell's group to study C4 photosynthesis. Dr. Mockler recently received $1.2 million as part of the DOE's $510 million public private partnership aimed at building a national biofuels industry. The funds support Dr. Mockler's research focused on developing methods to increase yield and improve the composition of bioenergy grasses also using the model grass, Brachypodium distachyon. Mockler also receives support from the National Science Foundation and USDA to use genetic, genomic, and computational approaches to understand how plants function and respond to environmental changes, including daily fluctuations in light and temperature.

The 60 new ARPA-E projects focus on accelerating innovations in clean technology while increasing America's competitiveness in biofuels and renewable energy sources, thermal storage, grid controls and solar power electronics. The projects are located in 25 states, with 50% of projects led by universities, 23% by small businesses, 12% by large businesses, 13% by national labs and 2% by non-profits.

"These innovative projects are at the forefront of a new technological frontier that plays a critical role in our future energy security and economic growth," said Arun Majumdar, director of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). "It is now more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas that will build the technological infrastructure for a new, clean energy economy."

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