The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has opened a comprehensive research facility to accommodate faculty and industry initiatives through the new Center for Renewable Carbon.

The new Bioenergy Science and Technology Laboratory is expected to enhance America’s emerging bio-based economy through advances in bioenergy and biofuel production economies as well as the development of new chemicals and materials from renewable carbon (biomass) sources.

UT President Joe DiPietro, UTIA Interim Chancellor Buddy Mitchell, and CRC Director Tim Rials, as well as other UT officials and representatives from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and state and local government, were on hand for a ribbon-cutting and tour of the new facilities in early February. Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Julius Johnson and Peter Muller, a representative from PerkinElmer, Inc., a partner in the instrumentation of the CRC, were also in attendance to celebrate the ribbon cutting.

DiPietro called the CRC and its work the next step in the advancement of a bio-based economy. The new CRC Bioenergy Science and Technology Laboratory includes specialized facilities for biomass pre-processing and processing measurement, biomass characterization, and biomass conversion to fuels and potentially useful co-products like adhesives and carbon fiber. Additional CRC research capabilities include life cycle analysis and a biomass fractionation reactor.

“I am excited by the potential for expanded research and collaboration within the University of Tennessee and for partnerships outside the university,” DiPietro said. “Through the Center for Renewable Carbon and these new labs, the University of Tennessee has an even greater means to impact the state and our nation by solving our need for carbon-based fuel as well as developing new, environmentally sound carbon-based products.”

Rials believes the CRC has enormous potential to enhance the nation’s quality of life through renewable carbon-based fuels and materials.

“Our scientists are working to solve some fundamental questions — to break down some fundamental barriers — to propel renewable carbon sources to the forefront of the next industrial revolution. The CRC’s express purpose is collaborative research and education associated with converting renewable carbon into energy, fuels, and useful industrial chemicals and materials,” he said.

The CRC consolidates existing bioenergy and biomaterials research programs. The UT Biofuels Initiative will continue working to demonstrate the technical and economic feasibility of cellulosic fuels. This effort involves a collaboration between UT and Genera Energy, the state of Tennessee, and DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE). The SunGrant Initiative, a federal effort that predates the Biofuels Initiative, will continue to coordinate research into the development of alternative energy from renewable carbon resources.

Through a Wood Utilization Program, the CRC will continue the work of the former UT Forest Products Center in support of wood and related materials systems to enhance the competitiveness of the forest products industry.

Also, the CRC’s Bioenergy Production and Carbon Cycling Program will research environmental topics including the relationships between land use, bioenergy crops and carbon sequestration.

The growing faculty, with wide-ranging expertise in areas from transportation economics to plant genetics, microbiology and chemistry, is already collaborating on numerous projects. Their collective expertise allows the center to explore all avenues of materials development from a feedstock or product’s fundamental nature to how new products might be produced on an industrial scale and how that production might impact the environment.

The scientists come from within the UT Institute of Agriculture and other areas of the UT system as well as from other research institutions and government agencies.

Peter Muller, sales support manager of Analytical Sciences and Laboratory Services at PerkinElmer, Inc., says the company is excited about the partnership they have formed with scientists in the CRC and looks forward to a continued relationship. “The collaborative efforts between PerkinElmer and the University of Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon will have a profound impact on the future of America’s energy independence,” he says.

The CRC functions across the units of the UT Institute of Agriculture. In addition to its research programs, the CRC will utilize UT Extension programs as appropriate to reach out to clientele statewide and will work with the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources to establish educational opportunities that will train the future research and industrial workforce required to develop and maintain a sustainable bioeconomy.