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Researchers earn Clean Fuel grant

June 22, 2011

Researchers at MSU and the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, or MBI, say they plan to use a $4.3 million grant from the Department of Energy to further their examination of alternative fuel technology.

Money from the grant will go primarily to researchers at MBI, a Lansing-based company owned by the university.

MBI was one of five research institutions chosen across the country, according to the Department of Energy.

Using the funds, researchers at the facility hope to increase the scope of technology first pioneered by chemical engineering and materials science professor Bruce Dale.

His work centers around transforming agricultural waste into material that later can be processed into biofuels for use in vehicles and other machines.

Dale could not be reached for comment.

Bobby Bringi, president and CEO of the MBI, said members of his company’s research team will work on “scaling up” a prototype version of Dale’s technology to create a copy that eventually is up to 100 times larger.

Researchers already are working on that process, Bringi said.

Environmental experts and officials hope biofuels similar to those produced by Dale’s technology eventually will reduce the usage of petroleum and the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

“Projects such as these are helping us to diversify our energy portfolio and decrease our dependence on foreign oil,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a statement about the grants.

The work that researchers at MBI are conducting is extremely unique, Bringi said.

“This is a technology that is new to the world,” he said. “It’s never really been done before.”

The economic feasibility of the new device eventually will be evaluated after its completion, researchers at the facility said.

“If we’re successful in this, we’re going to be able to demonstrate that this technology is practical,” said Doug Gage, the director of the MSU BioEconomy Network. “With that information in hand, that will allow commercial companies to come in and employ it.”

Gage said research as a result of the funding potentially could advance biofuels technology by several years.

“MSU believes bioeconomy is a critical research area that can benefit both the state and the nation,” he said. “We’re very happy when our prominent researchers in this area are able to compete successfully.”

The process of bringing the technology to commercial grade remains difficult, Bringi said.

“That is a very challenging process,” he said. “What one has to do is take technologies that work in a laboratory, and we have to innovate.”

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