Why develop plant-based bioenergy?
The coal, petroleum and natural gas that currently power our industries were formed from plant and algal material deposited millions of years ago. At our accelerating rate of consumption, these deposits will not be recreated in our lifetimes. In addition, the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon that has been sequestered in the earth’s crust into the atmosphere as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a leading greenhouse gas and a major cause of global warming. Because of its limited supply and the danger to the environment, we cannot rely on non-renewable fuels indefinitely.

What is a sustainable biofuel?
A sustainable biofuel either for transportation or energy production, is one that can be produced from renewable resources with minimal impact on the environment. For widespread acceptance, these fuels must have the potential to be reliably mass produced, environmentally friendly in production and use, and be cost competitive with current fuel sources. An advantage of biofuels is that the liquid energy can be transported and stored using existing infrastructure in a much more efficient manner compared to other alternative sources such as wind or solar power.

Who are we and what do we do?
Scientists at the Institute conduct high-risk research with the potential to alter current paradigms for bioenergy crops. Technologies are developed to improve bioenergy grasses and the production of plant and algal-based oils with the ultimate goal of production at commercial scale.

What are second generation biofuels?
Second generation biofuels are made from inedible parts of the plant and thus do not compete with the food supply. Second generation biofuels are produced using plant cell walls rather than starchy grains used to produced ethanol or other biofuels. The most promising include a number of grass species such as sorghum and sugarcane bagasse that produce large quantities of plant material in a single growing season.  Some of these grasses are also periennial and require much less fertilizer than traditional grain crops and can be grown on less productive soils. Thus second-generation biofuels represent a sustainable energy source that complements our existing corn/sugar based biofuel feedstocks.

Why do we use model systems?
A model system is one that has several characteristics that accelerate gene discovery. Characteristics that are particularly attractive for genetics and molecular biology include:
  • Small size – a few inches
  • Short life cycle – less than two months
  • Simple growth requirements
  • Small and sequences genome
  • Amenable to rapid genetic modification

 It is also important that model plants be closely related to the target feedstocks.