"This shows the value of supporting basic research at universities and how basic research can translate to high-tech, high-paying jobs"
MADISON, Wis. - Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
produce renewable plastic precursors and other substances from biomass with
a recently announced $3.3 million grant from the United States Department of
Part of a $13.4 million push by the Department of Energy to support the
development of advanced biofuels and bioproducts, the grant plays to the
strengths of a UW-Madison research community that already balances basic
science with a focus on the processes needed to develop a diverse and
economically viable suite of bio-derived chemicals.
"We're trying to make very high-value commodity chemicals from biomass that
can be used to make different kinds of plastics and plasticizers," says
George W. Huber, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at
UW-Madison. "So many people have been focusing on fuels, which are a pretty
low-value product - $600 or $700 per ton - but we're going to be making
products that are worth more than $5,000 per ton."
Joining Huber on the UW-Madison portion of the grant are Professor of
Chemical and Biological Engineering James A. Dumesic; chemical and
biological engineering Professor Christos Maravelias; chemical and
biological engineering research Professor Bill Banholzer; and chemistry
Associate Professor Ive Hermans. This team of researchers, who also are
affiliated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute, bring to the project
combined expertise in biomass conversion, process design, techo-economic
modeling of biochemical and biofuels production, and catalysis.
Researchers at Argonne will provide high-throughput tools for screening
large amounts of catalysts used in the biomass-conversion process, and
University of Minnesota researchers will contribute expertise in separating
products from the reactants and solvents used in their production.
Huber says the three-year project will involve both elaborating the basic
scientific principles involved in converting biomass into useful chemicals
that are otherwise petroleum-derived, as well as developing efficient
processes that can be scaled up in order to make bio-based production more
competitive with petroleum refining.
"This is about developing new process technology," Huber says. "We have some
ideas about how to make these products, and really it's to move to the
technology-readiness level. It's about prototyping and demonstrating our
ideas on a larger scale and getting this exciting technology a step closer
to being commercially practical."
Huber points out that bioenergy researchers at UW-Madison have a history of
breakthroughs both in basic science and in the business side of bioproducts,
from performing economically minded analyses to starting their own spinoff
companies in the field.
"This shows the value of supporting basic research at universities and how
basic research can translate to high-tech, high-paying jobs," Huber says.
"It's important that Wisconsin doesn't lose its expertise in terms of
developing novel technology. I really think the University of Wisconsin is
the international leading university in biomass-conversion to fuels and