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CEBC preparing biorefining initiative

The Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis is preparing a major initiative to develop novel biorefining concepts – a research frontier with major implications for agriculture.

CEBC envisions an investment of $2 million per year for five years that would bring additional industry partners for the initiative. The initiative comes as the center's five-year, $17-million grant from the National Science Foundation is set to end.

Biorefining is a concept that converts biomass, including materials derived from plants, into biofuels, biomaterials and biopower (heat and electricity). The concept is similar to petroleum refining that uses crude oil to produce similar products.

Scientists foresee "biorefineries" in agricultural areas, using biomass to produce renewable feedstocks that can replace petroleum in the manufacture of plastics, chemicals and other materials.

According to Bala Subramaniam, director of CEBC and a professor in KU's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, research in biorefining is valuable to industries that are dealing with the rising cost of petroleum feedstocks

"A variety of useful products can come out of the biorefining process," he said. "In two to three decades, there will be an increasing shift toward alternate feedstocks such as biomass because of the depleting crude oil supply and increasing costs. The challenge is to develop biomass conversion technologies that are economically viable. Research must start now to make this happen."

Because it uses renewable resources and will rely on expertise on catalytic processing, the biorefining initiative is an ideal fit for the CEBC mission.

"CEBC has a unique role to play in developing the complicated chemical biomass processes in order to make the more valuable chemical products used by everyone in their daily lives," said Daryle Busch, chemistry professor and CEBC senior scientist. "CEBC will share in developing the new technologies for biofuels and biopower as well."

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