Paul Gilna, director of the BioEnergy Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Warren Burggren, UNT provost, sign a research agreement.
UNT's growing expertise in plant sciences helped it become a partner of the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), one of three such centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2007 to accelerate research toward the development of cost-effective advanced biofuels.
With the addition of UNT, the BESC at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is now an 18-partner consortium consisting of more than 300 members from university, industrial and private foundations studying ways to generate biofuels.
Richard Dixon, UNT Distinguished Research Professor of biological sciences and a member of the Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster, will work with the center on a research project investigating how to develop liquid biofuels from genetically engineered switchgrass. Switchgrass is an ideal plant for creating biofuel because of its high productivity and adaption for growth in a wide area of the southeast and Great Plains. The carbohydrates in the plant's cell walls are released and converted into ethanol. Post-doctoral researchers Luis Escamellia-Treviño and Hui Shen will work with Dixon on the project.
"Moving ethanol production away from a corn-based system is important to lessen the strain on the world's food resources," says Dixon, a world-renowned specialist in metabolic engineering of plants. "We are engineering switchgrass that will easily break down for fermentation to become biofuel."
Department of Energy centers such as BESC support multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams pursuing the fundamental scientific breakthroughs needed to make production of cellulosic biofuels, or biofuels from nonfood plant fiber, cost-effective on a national scale.
"We welcome the addition of UNT to the BESC partnership as it allows us to continue our engagement of Dr. Dixon and also affords us access to the considerable plant science resources that are being developed at UNT," says Paul Gilna, director of the BioEnergy Science Center.
Leslie Wimmer with UNT News Service can be reached at Leslie.Wimmer@unt.edu.