Converting biomass into affordable and useable fuel is among the nation’s national security priorities, and the University of Tennessee is becoming recognized as a leader in the effort.

Joseph J. Bozell, an associate professor in biomass chemistry in the UT Institute of Agriculture Forest Products Center, is among some 700 senior investigators nationwide who will participate in a collection of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) recently established by the Department of Energy Office of Science.

Bozell will lead team members Craig Barnes, Department of Chemistry, and Alison Buchan, Department of Microbiology, as a named collaborator in the Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels (C3Bio). The C3Bio, which is to be managed by Purdue University, is one of the 46 EFRCs, and its mission is to use fundamental knowledge about the interactions between catalysts and plant cell walls to design improved processes for the conversion of biomass to energy, fuels, or chemicals.

The C3Bio is among the EFRCs guaranteed funding — approximately 
$4 million for each of the next five years. The UT effort is expected to be funded for a total of approximately $1.1 million over the next 5 years.

The EFRC awards were announced by DOE as a means to enlist the talents and skills of American scientists and engineers to address current fundamental scientific roadblocks to U.S. energy security. The C3Bio was selected from a competitive pool of some 260 applications for funding.

As a member of the C3Bio, Bozell’s team is expected to contribute expertise in the area of “hybrid” catalysts and catalytic conversion of renewable materials. If successful, the effort will enhance the efficiency and affordability of biofuels production and possibly lead to the discovery of new useful chemical co-products that result from the conversion effort.

Bozell’s work should also contribute to the success of the pilot biorefinery currently under construction in Vonore by the UT Biofuels Initiative in collaboration with DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE).

The UT Biofuels Initiative is a farm-to-fuel business plan developed by UT Institute of Agriculture scientists that models a biofuels industry capable of supplementing 30 percent of Tennessee’s current petroleum consumption. The pilot biorefinery is scheduled to begin production of cellulosic ethanol later this year.