CU-Boulder To Play Lead Role In Colorado Center For Biorefining And Biofuels

March 19, 2007

The University of Colorado at Boulder is joining with Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the business sector to establish a Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels.

The center was announced Monday by Colorado political leaders including U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, Gov. Bill Ritter, Sen. Wayne Allard and U.S. Reps Mark Udall and Marilyn Musgrave.

Known as C2B2, the center's mission is to become the world's leading center for research, education and innovation on integration of renewable energy sources into the chemical and fuels industry.

"Our vision extends from crops to chemicals to fuels," said Ryan Gill, CU-Boulder assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and C2B2's managing director. "We aim to speed the development of an entirely new industry in an area of critical national need."

The center is a joint venture between several large and small businesses and the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, an association among CU-Boulder, CSU, CSM and NREL aimed at increasing the production and use of energy from renewable resources.

"Colorado is an ideal location for the enterprise because of the vast expertise in energy and renewables at the state's three major universities and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in Golden," said Alan Weimer, a CU-Boulder professor of chemical and biological engineering who will serve as executive director.

The four institutions are committed to combining their faculties and resources to allow C2B2 to pursue broad and intensive research and development projects on a scale that no university in the world can manage on its own, Weimer said.

The center's research program will involve six thrusts, ranging from basic efforts to engineer plants for biofuels and refining applications, to developing methods to biochemically and thermo-chemically convert engineered biomass to useful end-products, to developing efficient and economical production processes and systems.

Some of the groundbreaking work in biorefining and biofuels already being done at CU-Boulder includes:

o the use of concentrated sunlight by Weimer's group to convert cellulose-based biomass to a gaseous intermediate that can be easily reformed into hydrogen, alcohols or other liquid fuels;

o the use of microbes, such as E. coli by Gill's group, to produce platform chemicals from renewable feedstocks that subsequently can be converted to industrial chemicals;

o and the discovery of a key mechanism used by plants to protect their photosynthetic apparatus against damage by intense sunlight, by professors Barbara Demmig-Adams and William Adams of ecology and evolutionary biology.

C2B2's industry sponsors include Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical and Shell Global Solutions, among others. Membership fees will fund shared research, and sponsors will have the opportunity to participate in the discoveries and patents generated by the shared research, with the goal of commercializing the new technologies as soon as possible. Sponsors also may enter into individual agreements to fund proprietary research through C2B2.

Educational activities will include a summer undergraduate research program, fellowships for undergraduates, graduate students and post-doctoral students; and outreach to high school students.

Site directors for C2B2 include Will Medlin at CU-Boulder, Ken Reardon at CSU, John Dorgan at CSM and Al Darzins at NREL.