UF Joins New Center to Create Fuel from Plants

Dan Biotechnology, Energy, Florida, Industry News Release, Research

The University of Florida is one of 17 institutions partnering with the University of Illinois in the $115-million Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI). Researchers will work to develop efficient ways to grow, transform and market biofuels.


Dr. Fredy Altpeter harvesting sugarcane at the Plant Science Research Unit October, 31, 2014 in Citra, FL.
Photographed for the 2015 Research Discoveries report.

Fredy Altpeter, professor of agronomy in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will lead the UF/IFAS portion of the project. Altpeter will receive more than $4.2 million for his research during the next five years to develop new strategies for  biofuel production from sugarcane. He is also a faculty member of the university’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, Genetics Institute and the Florida Energy Systems Consortium.

“Our goal is to genetically enhance sugarcane so that the stems and leaves accumulate large amounts of oil while retaining the plants ability to produce large amounts of biomass,” Altpeter said. His team recently created a prototype of this oil-producing sugarcane in collaboration with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, another CABBI partner.

“This breakthrough demonstrates an enormous potential for producing large amounts of renewable and energy dense drop-in fuels, like biodiesel. Sugarcane is one of the most productive high biomass crops on this planet,” Altpeter said.

“Scientific models at the University of Illinois project that with the planned research in CABBI, sugarcane would far exceed traditional oil crops like soybeans or canola in terms of oil production per acre,” Altpeter said. His research program recently pioneered precision breeding of sugarcane using intragenic and genome editing technologies.

These new breeding technologies are far more precise than traditional breeding, Altpeter said.  “This new process does not undergo the disruptive re-organization of genetic material that happens when you mate two parental plants for creating a new variety by traditional plant breeding,” he said. “Therefore, this will dramatically accelerate the development of improved sugarcane cultivars.”

“The transformative research model will ensure that the crops produced are both economically and environmentally sustainable,” Altpeter said. “The 17 CABBI partner institutions will address this global challenge by integrating life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences and engineering to cover the themes of feedstock production, converting plants into high-value chemicals and sustainability,” he said.

The new center will join three previously created bioenergy research centers funded by the Department of Energy: The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center led by the University of Wisconsin in partnership with Michigan State University; the Center for Bioenergy Innovation led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the Joint BioEnergy Institute led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The revolution of modern biology has opened up vast new opportunities for the energy industry to develop and utilize products derived from biomass as a sustainable resource,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry when he recently announced the Department of Energy awards for the establishment of these four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers.

By Beverly James, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences