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Breaking The Biological Barriers To Cellulosic Ethanol: A Joint Research Agenda

J. Houghton, Sharlene Weatherwax, John Ferrell
Published 2006 · Materials Science

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Introducton I n his 2006 State of the Union address (Bush 2006), the president outlined the new Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI) to help overcome America's dependence on foreign sources of energy (AEI 2006) and the American Competitiveness Initiative to increase R&D investments and strengthen education (ACI 2006). He seeks to reduce our national dependence on imported oil by accelerating the development of domestic, renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuels. " With America on the verge of breakthroughs in advanced energy tech­ nologies, the best way to break the addiction to foreign oil is through new technologies. " —White House Press Release on the State of the Union Breakthrough technologies to realize the potential of cellulosic biofuels can be expedited by application of a new generation of biological research created by the genome revolution. Overcoming barriers to development of these fuels on an industrial scale will require high-performance energy feed­ stocks and microbial processes, both to break down feedstocks to sugars and to ferment sugars to ethanol. A focused set of investments linking revolu­ tionary biofuel technologies with advances from the biological, physical, computational, and engineering sciences will quickly remove barriers to an efficient, economic, and sustainable biofuel industry. Two Department of Energy (DOE) offices are teaming to advance biofuel development and use: The Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER) within the Office of Science (SC) and the Office of the Biomass Program (OBP) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) (see descriptions of the two DOE programs, pp. 17 and 19). These offices are challenging their communities to identify critical sci­ ence needs to support a substantial and sustainable expansion of biomass-derived fuels, specifically cellulosic ethanol. In the jointly sponsored Biomass to Biofuels Workshop held December 7–9, 2005, in Rockville, Maryland, more than 50 scientists representing a wide range of expertise convened to define barriers and challenges to this new biofuel industry. The workshop concentrated on improvement of biomass crops and their pro­ cessing to transportation fuels. Although the focus was ethanol, the science applies to additional fuels that include biodiesel and to other bioproducts or coproducts having critical roles in any deployment scheme. INTRODUCTION The current approach to introducing biofuels relies on an " evolutionary " business and economic driver for a steady but moderate entry into the market. Technologies for implementing this new industry are being tested either by producing higher-value products from …
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