Science Made Simple: What Is Bioenergy Research?

Bioenergy research studies how to use crops and other agricultural materials to make biofuels and other bioproducts. Biomass energy would improve energy security. It would reduce the use of toxic chemicals. It would bring jobs to rural areas and improve our trade balance. To achieve these benefits, bioenergy research integrates many disciplines that include agronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, and economics. These disciplines work together to advance research on the sustainable production, collection, and conversion of biomass.

Scientists use insights from studies of plants and microorganisms as the basis for bioenergy development. These studies are based on genomics, which studies the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of the genes in organisms. Scientists use this knowledge to develop plant species with modified traits, such as altered cell walls that make them easier to break down, making them useful as raw material for bioenergy production. Scientists can also modify the chemical reactions in a microorganism. These alterations allow microorganisms to convert compounds derived from plants into fuels and chemicals.

To improve the sustainability of crops and other agricultural material used for energy production, researchers are studying the associations of crop roots with fungi to improve the uptake of nutrients from the soil. Credit: Photo courtesy of the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

Bioenergy Research Facts

  • Sustainability research conducts long-term studies of bioenergy crop production systems and analyses for biomass supply.
  • Feedstock development research designs dedicated bioenergy crops and engineers plants for efficient conversion into fuels and products.
  • Plant deconstruction research covers processes that help degrade and separate biomass to facilitate conversion to bioproducts.
  • Conversion research focuses on developing new microorganisms that convert biomass materials into fuels, biomass fuels that easily integrate with existing gasoline and other conventional fuel infrastructure, and high-throughput biology tools to scale up biomass conversion.

DOE Office of Science & Bioenergy Research

DOE’s Office of Science seeks a basic understanding of plant and microbial biology to unlock Nature’s potential to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. Scientists must identify promising plant and microbial species as well as study how to promote the sustainable growth of bioenergy crops. They need to research modifying plants and microorganisms to support beneficial traits. In addition, they need to integrate these efforts to produce biofuel and bioproducts. These efforts are in progress in the DOE Bioenergy Research Centers. These four centers are working to lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy. Their goal is to coordinate with applied researchers to help develop a range of new products and fuels derived directly from renewable, nonfood biomass.

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  • John Jakson

    Biomass energy is the very worst of the green agenda, it is intensively land based, it can typically produce energy at about 1% eff, at least solar/wind/hydro have much higher capacity factors between 10-30% and they are not that good either. Turning food production land to energy production is an absolute crime against humanity. We saw the corn ethanol fiasco and these folks are still at it.

    The energy book by Prof David MacKay “Without the hot air” a free pdf download has little good to say about biomass energy in the UK. In the EU excess food production is already added in to biofuel instead of given away to the hungry.

    The best way to make carbon free synfuels is quite simple, use nuclear heat from high temp reactors to make hydrogen with the S-I process at 50% eff. A 2GW thermal reactor now makes 1GW of hydrogen 24/365. Then add more energy to convert that into more useful and stable fuels recycling CO2, water into fuels that are carbon neutral. Very little land needed and the fuels can replace all fossil fuels so 100% electrification of the economy is not really needed, only partially so. Fuels are the best way to store energy and to allow transport to continue as is. Also this is baseload, not messed up by weather or seasonal changes, and that is a good thing or at least it used to be.