WisBusiness: UW-Madison gets big DOE grant for biofuels research center

WisBusiness Staff

UW-Madison has won a major federal Department of Energy grant worth $125 million to build a Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center to develop cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels. The five-year grant is the largest single research award the university has ever received.

Gov. Jim Doyle yesterday said he’ll ask the Legislature to chip in another $50 million for the project, plus another $4 million for new faculty and staff at the center. In addition, he said the university will seek to raise $50 million from private sources for the project.

Molly Jahn, dean of the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the center will be built at one of three sites the Madison campus. She said it will focus on developing energy resources from non-food resources such as cornstalks, wood chips, paper waste and perennial native grasses.

UW-Madison will collaborate on the project with researchers at Michigan State University; Lucigen, a Madison area biotech firm; the Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National Laboratories; the University of Florida; Iowa State University and others. In addition, seven companies – including Madison Gas & Electric and Alliant Energy – will work as partners at the center.

“We hope this will help break our dependence on fossil fuels, which I believe is one of the greatest challenges we will face this century,” said Jahn, speaking at a university ag research station on Madison’s far west side. “With the help of this grant, we should be able to unlock energy resources and do great things.”

Doyle, who stood at Jahn’s side, called the grant a recognition of the great research that is going on at UW-Madison and throughout the UW system.

“We will be making a major investment in energy innovation and discovery that will result in breakthroughs and create new jobs,” he said enthusiastically. “This is a really big thing, on par with the Institutes for Discovery.”

Doyle said he believes that the states that will be most competitive in the years to come are those that are working to develop their bioenergy industries.

And he said Wisconsin is the ideal state for the research center because of the strength of the UW system, its manufacturing base, farming expertise and the forest products and paper industries.

“Wisconsin is at the absolute center of this growing field,” he said.

UW System president Riley echoed Doyle and he believes the center will play a major roll in solving the globe’s energy needs.

“We should feel both proud of the honor of earning this grant – and terrified by the challenge,” he said with a grin. “Starting tomorrow, we have our work cut out for us.”

The DOE also is funding two other bioenergy research centers. One is in Oak Ridge, Tenn., while the other is in Berkeley, Ca. The centers are subject to the finalization of contract terms and congressional appropriations, and are expected to begin work in 2008, and be fully operational by 2009.