New research centers in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin will try to develop new ways of turning switch grass, poplar trees and other plants into fuel under a $375-million plan announced Tuesday by the Energy Department.
The three centers will team up with universities, national laboratories and private companies. Each will receive $125 million to research new biofuel technologies over five years. The centers will be located near Berkeley, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and in Madison, Wis.
"Where energy is concerned, we simply must find ways to do more with less," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
The centers are part of the Bush administration's plan to reduce gasoline consumption by 20% during the next decade.
The collaborations are aimed at improving the process of developing fuel from the cellulose in plant materials such as stalks and leaves while making the process more cost-effective. Ethanol is produced mainly from corn in the U.S., but scientists have been trying to develop alternatives that use nonfood sources for energy.
Studies have suggested that cellulosic ethanol could yield four to six times the energy expended to produce it and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than corn-based ethanol.
The three research centers are:
* The Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Collaborators include Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford University.
* The BioEnergy Science Center, led by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
* The Great Lakes BioEnergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., in collaboration with Michigan State University.