Researchers believe drought-resistant trees might offer a reliable bioenergy source in the face of climate change

The UC Davis College of Biological Sciences has started a new project that studies the function of the genes that regulate growth and wood formation in poplar trees. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is funding the $2.5 million, three-year-long project that is to be led by Nitzan Shabek, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Biology, along with Andrew Groover of the USDA Pacific Southwest Research Station and Justin Walley of Iowa State University. The project is one of 37 being funded by the DOE in an effort to forward bioenergy technology.

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Jet fuel from poplar trees is on the horizon, thanks to collaborative science

America’s grand challenge to develop sustainable, plant-based jet fuel offers a model for young scientists showing the value of collaboration across disciplines and institutions, a leading biofuels scientist said at the recent UC Davis Plant Sciences Symposium.

Plant geneticist Gerald A. Tuskan, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, outlined the dramatic advances made in studying poplar trees as a source for plant-based energy, and the challenges ahead for transforming them into 35 billion gallons of jet fuel each year by 2050. This challenge has been set by the Biden Administration to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, grow a reliable supply of sustainable fuel demanded by the aviation industry, slash carbon emissions that are causing global warming, and create thousands of new jobs.

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7 Important Biofuel Crops That We Use for Fuel Production

Biofuels and biofuel crops have long been in use as a substitute for fossil fuels. Biofuel is a low-carbon fuel that is produced from biomass, rather than by the very slow geological processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels. The demand for biofuels is expected to double in the next few years, and could potentially allow us to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.

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The third wave of biomaterials: When innovation meets demand

Biomaterials have long been a part of our daily lives, from wooden houses to woolen clothes. More recently, biotech advances have brought us sugar-derived first-generation biofuels and high-performance enzymes to power our laundry detergents. Now, we see the emergence of nylon made using genetically engineered microbes instead of petrochemicals, alternative leather from mushroom roots, and cement from bacteria.

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From Lab to Market: Bio-Based Products Are Gaining Momentum

In the 1930s, the DuPont company created the world’s first nylon, a synthetic polymer made from petroleum. The product first appeared in bristles for toothbrushes, but eventually it would be used for a broad range of products, from stockings to blouses, carpets, food packaging, and even dental floss.

Nylon is still widely used, but, like other plastics, it has environmental downsides: it is made from a nonrenewable resource; its production generates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas; it doesn’t biodegrade; and it sheds microfibers that end up in food, water, plants, animals, and even the clouds.

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Bioenergy is renewable energy created from naturally occurring biological sources, such as grasses and trees. Types of bioenergy include biogas, bioethanol, and biodiesel which may be sourced from plants (corn, sugarcane), wood, agricultural wastes, and bagasse. Bioenergy is considered renewable because its source is inexhaustible, as plants obtain their energy from the sun through photosynthesis which can be replenished. Bioenergy, while still responsible for the release of carbon into the atmosphere, is considered less harmful than the burning of fossil fuels, as it utilizes and releases carbon currently in our modern cycle, whereas fossil fuels release carbon that has been stored away for long periods of time.

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Bioproduct Production

Developing bio-based products and chemicals that can enable biofuel production is an emerging research and development area for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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