Location: Sugarcane Research
Project Number: 6052-21000-016-42-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement
Start Date: Apr 1, 2018
End Date: Mar 31, 2023
The University of Illinois with our partner institutions propose to establish the Eastern BioProduct Accelerator (EBA), an integrated research center to overcome the science barriers to an economically and environmentally sustainable domestic biofuel and bioproduct industry. Building on the “plants as factories” and the “biofoundry” concepts, EBA will address three highly interconnected DOE priority research areas: Feedstock Development, Conversion, and Sustainability. EBA will leverage existing or emerging technologies to provide feedstocks – sugars and lipids – for conversion to high value products. Our focus will be on the three closely related, highly productive and largely highly sustainable feedstocks - Saccharum, Miscanthus and Sorghum. Collectively, these provide feedstock options for the entire eastern half of the US. We aim to add value to grass stem biomass through three strategies. First, drop-in fuels will be derived directly from the increased accumulation of lipids in vegetative tissues. Secondly, we will develop “plant-primed” conversion strategies where plants accumulate precursors that are then finished to higher-value specialty bioproducts via microbial conversion. A third product concept is aimed at a different strategy to overcome the “lignin recalcitrance” problem, by diverting stem carbon from the default lignocellulosic pathway to sugars, lipids, or phenolic intermediates. Our final product concept is to enhance yield efficiency and resiliency of value-added biorefinery grasses.
Our focus will be on the three closely related, highly productive and largely highly sustainable feedstocks - Saccharum, Miscanthus and Sorghum. Collectively, these provide feedstock options for the entire eastern half of the U.S. We will employ our combined expertise in comparative genomics, regulatory variation, and systems biology to develop a data integration platform for Sorghum, Miscanthus and Saccharum biology. The team will apply deep and long sequencing technologies to assaying genetic and expression variation in our crop targets. When coupled with populations already being evaluated for improvement traits, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of natural variation becomes a powerful approach for linking sequence with function. Analysis of mutants or modified genomes that perturb systems will further inform and strengthen integration. Molecular breeding approaches will combine both natural and engineered variation into stable genetic packages for delivery to end-users. The team has capabilities in high-throughput analysis of the major chemical components we aim to change (lipids, carbohydrates, lignin), and these will be enhanced for greater throughput, as well as the development of sensors (both digital and bio-based) for in vivo tracking. Feedstocks Development scientists have considerable expertise in monitoring performance and sustainability traits at a number of field locations in representative production environments including the Energy Farm and throughout the eastern region. This capacity will be directed at both ensuring that value-added feedstocks maintain expected performance with respect to yield and resource efficiencies, and to identify further improvements in stress tolerance that will preserve biomass value.