Department of Energy funds major bioenergy research center at Illinois
Two CEE professors are involved with a new, $104 million bioenergy research center at Illinois funded by the Department of Energy. Professor Ximing Cai and Assistant Professor Jeremy Guest will work within the sustainability thrust of the center, which was established to provide scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective biofuels and bioproducts.
The Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) is a collaboration between Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment (iSEE) and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), and it will include 16 partner institutions. Evan H. DeLucia, the G. William Arends Professor of Plant Biology and Baum Family Director of iSEE, will serve as CABBI Director.
“As the United States seeks energy independence, we need to look at the most efficient ways to grow, transform, and market biofuels,” DeLucia said. “This grant is a game-changer, and CABBI will be at the forefront as we press toward a new bio-based economy. Our center’s holistic approach will generate new products directly from biomass, reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and making us more secure.”
One of the major challenges the world faces is how to provide sustainable sources of energy that meet societal needs as the population continues to grow. DeLucia said Illinois is uniquely qualified to address the challenge with a world-class facility at IGB, which will oversee and integrate CABBI’s core science team under one roof.
“The IGB, now with over a decade of experience in successfully addressing grand challenges by transdisciplinary integration of the life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, and engineering, will provide an outstanding environment for the talented CABBI team,” said IGB Director Gene E. Robinson. "We are delighted to partner with iSEE to lead this important new Center.”
CABBI researchers will develop fuels and products by integrating three highly interconnected DOE priority areas: Feedstock Development, Conversion and Sustainability.
Cai, who in addition to his CEE faculty appointment also serves as Associate Director for Campus Sustainability within iSEE, will chair the Science Integration Committee, which is responsible for ensuring effective communication among the research themes and between the University of Illinois and external partners. He will also be active in the Big Data and Integrated Modeling Teams, both within the Sustainability Theme of CABBI.
Guest will be leading the Technoeconomic Analysis (TEA) Team, also within the CABBI Sustainability Theme.
“My team’s core objective is to develop a sustainable design platform that enables rapid and robust TEA and life cycle assessment of bioproducts and processes that are under consideration by CABBI and the DOE,” Guest said. “We’ll leverage this design platform to help prioritize research and development objectives for the Feedstock Theme and Conversions Theme, and to design more resilient and efficient biorefineries that convert plant feedstocks to biofuels and bioproducts.”
DeLucia said iSEE will coordinate and integrate field work off campus and at the Illinois Energy Farm — “a globally unique, 320-acre site that enables researchers to trial promising biofuel feedstocks at scale. And we will use another state-of-the-art facility of national importance: the nearly complete, $32 million Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL), which is a direct result of state investment in the future of bioenergy research.”
The three themes are described as follows:
GROWING THE RIGHT CROPS (Feedstock Development) — Led by Stephen Moose, a Professor of Crop Sciences at Illinois, scientists will integrate recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, and computational biology to increase the value of biomass crops. Feedstock researchers will use the “plants as factories” paradigm, in which biofuels, bioproducts, and foundation molecules for conversion are synthesized directly in plant stems.
TURNING PLANTS INTO FUEL (Conversion) — Led by Huimin Zhao, the Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering at Illinois, experts will further develop a versatile, automated “biofoundry” for rapidly engineering microbial strains that can efficiently produce diverse, high-value molecules such as biodiesel, organic acids, jet fuels, lubricants, and alcohols. Using a design-build-test-learn framework, this research will overcome challenges associated with driving biological systems to produce non-natural compounds.
DETERMINING THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC BOTTOM LINE (Sustainability) — Led by Madhu Khanna, ACES Distinguished Professor in Environmental Economics at Illinois, researchers will provide an overarching framework for viewing outcomes from the Feedstocks and Conversion themes through an environmental and economic lens. Experts will design a closed-loop, integrated research program for CABBI.
Illinois has been one of the DOE’s top six funding partners over the last five years. CABBI is one of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers, joining the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center led by the University of Wisconsin, the Center for Bioenergy Innovation led by the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Joint Bioenergy Institute led by the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.