Our Research Approach
Charged by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with performing basic research to generate technology to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol and other advanced biofuels, GLBRC supports nearly 400 researchers, students and staff spanning disciplines from microbiology to economics to plant biology and engineering.
The innovations born of these unique collaborations provide the basic scientific foundation for the sustainable, large-scale production of advanced cellulosic biofuels technologies that will help meet the nation's growing energy needs. GLBRC scientists and engineers are using each plant cell component, chemical intermediate and building block to help replace fossil fuels and other petroleum products while adding value to the biofuels production chain.
With GLBRC's renewal by DOE in April 2013, the center is forging ahead with basic science breakthroughs that will support the development of technologies throughout the biofuels pipeline—from field to fuel. The center's research program creates improved biofuel feedstocks, develops improved processing techniques and catalysts, and ensures the sustainability of the entire cycle.
“These Centers incorporate some of the best thinking we have about effective management of research—dating back to the era of Bell Labs and America’s great industrial laboratories—and serve as a model for what federal support of research can accomplish if it is smart, proactive and creative.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
GLBRC's research priorities take advantage of the diverse expertise of the center's research team and focus on the integration of researcher expertise in support of two key knowledge gaps: sustainable production of crops with desireable biofuel traits, and efficient conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. Trans-disciplinary collaboration across the four research areas has created the synergy needed to pursue these knowledge gaps and produce over 400 publications in the first five-year funding cycle. Explore our publications. Intellectual property advances also reflect the productivity and innovation of center research collaborations. Explore our technologies.
Sustainable production of crops with desirable biofuel traits
The economic and environmental sustainability of biofuel technologies depends on how crops are produced and whether they compete with food production for land use. Researchers are reducing gaps in knowledge to develop and produce optimal, sustainable biofuel feedstocks that are distinct from food crops.
Efficient conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals
Alternatives to cellulosic ethanol—referred to as advanced biofuels—also hold promise for the automotive, diesel, and aviation sectors. However, biomass conversion technologies will not succeed in biorefineries unless they are fast, energy efficient, and economical. GLBRC will continue to reduce or eliminate gaps in knowledge that limit the sustainable production of energy-dense fuels and chemicals from biomass.
"By using an integrated approach to biofuels research, GLBRC is leveraging this innovation to generate top-tier research publications, new biofuel technologies and strategic partnerships."
Doug Gage, Director, MSU BioEconomy Network, Office of the VP for Research and Graduate Studies
At the GLBRC, sustainability research is a transdisciplinary endeavor that connects environmental resource stewardship and management with the principles of economics and life cycle analysis. The center's work on large-scale lignocellulosic biomass production systems spans the disciplines of agriculture, industry, ecology and human behavior, and uses the interdependence of environmental and economic sustainability as a guiding principle.
Sugar-rich, renewable and diverse, plants are a master key to sustainable energy. To unlock the energy potential of cellulosic biomass, GLBRC researchers are using plant genetics to develop feedstocks with abundant, accessible sugars and oils for conversion to liquid transportation fuels. With their biodiversity benefits and their status as non-food crops, cellulosic feedstocks like switchgrass, corn stover, mixed prairie grasses and poplar have the potential to make future energy production truly 'green.'
Efficient, effective conversion of insoluble plant material to soluble sugars through biomass deconstruction is an essential component of successful large-scale biofuel production. As one of the most time-consuming and costly bioenergy bottlenecks, GLBRC researchers are tackling deconstruction with combinations of physical, chemical, and biological biomass treatments.
Converting plant biomass to fuels can be rooted in biological processes (such as microbe metabolism) or chemical processes (such as heterogeneous catalysis). GLBRC researchers are using both approaches to convert plant sugars into bioenergy compounds, with the long-term goals of improving biomass conversion to ethanol, advanced biofuels, and other chemical feedstocks that can replace fossil fuels.
Future Biofuels Technologies: Providing A Knowledgebase
"As the biofuels industry picks up speed, the private sector is counting on federally-funded basic research like the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers to provide new insight that will help us meet the broad challenges of reducing cost and meeting demand for advanced biofuels."
William D. Provine, DuPont Director of Science & Technology External Affairs and GLBRC Scientific Advisory Board member
As a DOE Bioenergy Research Center, GLBRC is positioned to make key discoveries and major advances that will lead to breakthrough technologies for eventual large-scale conversion of biomass into fuels. When a new technology is developed, GLBRC researchers work closely with industry partners, through technology transfer mechanisms or collaboratively, to achieve commercial implementation.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), established in 1925 as the world's first university-based technology transfer office, supports GLBRC innovation by protecting the intellectual property of its faculty and staff, conducting surveys of the intellectual property landscape to guide new research, and licensing discoveries to companies for commercial use to benefit humankind.
"With a strong record of producing scientific advancements, I am confident that we have the momentum to continue developing innovative, industrially relevant breakthroughs to support the advanced biofuels industry."
GLBRC Director Tim Donohue