To focus the most advanced biotechnology-based resources on the challenges of biofuel production, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) in September 2007, with a second 5-year phase, which began in 2012. Each center represents an integrative, multidisciplinary partnership with expertise spanning the physical, chemical, biological, and computational sciences, including genomics, microbial and plant biology, analytical chemistry, computational biology and bioinformatics, and engineering. The scientific rationale for these centers and for other fundamental genomic research critical to the biofuel industry was established at a DOE workshop involving members of the research community.
The BRCs are structured to facilitate knowledge sharing among multiple disciplines so that breakthroughs in one area can be capitalized on and translated to other areas of emphasis. In these integrated and collaborative environments, the BRCs pursue the necessary fundamental research to improve the processes needed for large-scale, cost-effective production of advanced biofuels from cellulosic biomass. Additionally, as each center approaches biofuel production challenges from different angles, the types of knowledge gained are multiplied, new questions opened up, and new avenues of research pursued, ultimately accelerating the pathway to improving and scaling up biofuel production processes.
The ultimate goal for the three DOE BRCs is to provide the fundamental science to underpin a cost-effective, advanced cellulosic biofuels industry. Using systems biology approaches, the BRCs are focusing on new strategies to reduce the impact of key cost-driving processes in the overall production of cellulosic biofuels from biomass. For these biofuels to be adopted on a large scale, they must represent environmentally sustainable and economically competitive alternatives to existing fuel systems. New strategies and findings emanating from the centers' fundamental research are addressing three grand challenges for cost-effective advanced biofuels production: