Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

27m boost for biofuel research

Researchers will try to boost the quality of materials used for biofuels

Researchers at the University of Dundee working to develop biofuels from plants like barley are to benefit from a 27m investment into bioscience.

The university is one of six hubs across the UK that will be given a share of the funding.

They will use it to create five posts including three new researchers and two technicians.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The university said the research could eventually lead to fuel that would replace the petrol in cars and would help increase the number of raw materials that can be used to produce biofuels.

Among those working on the project will be the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate (RERAD) and the University of York.

Scientists in Dundee will try to change the lignin properties in barley straw and then transfer that knowledge to other crops.

'Agricultural waste'

Lignin is a polymer in plants that makes it difficult to access sugars which are vital for bioenergy production.

The researchers aim to alter lignin production in barley to make it easier to produce bioenergy from waste straw without reducing the quality of the crop.

Professor Claire Halpin of the College of Life Sciences at Dundee said: "This is a very exciting collaboration that matches research excellence from each of the project partners in areas relevant to the production of `second-generation' biofuels, those that do not impact food production.

"If we can find a way of accessing these key sugars in barley straw it would have a significant impact on the types of agricultural waste and dedicated energy crops that could be used to produce sustainable bioenergy.

"We are using barley as model, partly due to the excellent work already done on barley at SCRI, but hopefully we will then be able to transfer results to other crops."

The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is focussed on six research hubs of academic and industrial partners, based at each of the Universities of Cambridge, Dundee and York and Rothamsted Research and two at the University of Nottingham.

The Scottish Government is contributing up to 600,000 over the next three years to fund the project in Dundee.

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