Australian, US institutions in bioenergy research pact

Coaxing energy from renewable resources like plant matter or algae, cost-effectively, is a scientific challenge larger than one research team or even one nation. Now, two research institutions half way across the globe from each other are banding together to share information, ideas and even staff.

PNNL Scientist Alex Beliaev is expected to hold the first joint research appointment with Queensland University of Technology. He led the team that developed the novel photobioreactor systems that have been successfully applied to photosynthetic microbes and their potential as bioenergy producers. Capabilities developed at PNNL in controlled cultivation and systems microbiology not only enable alternative fuel research but also outline a path toward mass-production of biomass and its conversion to biofuels  

The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, have collaborated on bioenergy and microbial biotechnology in the past. Now they are formalising their relationship to enhance their bioenergy research, promote education, and develop industry around and viable bioenergy solutions in their respective countries - with special emphasis on adaptive bioprocesses.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by PNNL Director of Strategic Partnerships, Doug Ray and QUT's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Commercialisation, Arun Sharma.

This is the first time PNNL has entered into a MOU involving joint staff appointments with a research institution outside the US. PNNL microbiologist Alex Beliaev is expected to hold the first joint research appointment between the two organizations. The agreement will also involve collaborative research and academic exchange including staff and students.

PNNL brings expertise in systems biology, including fungal, algal and microbial genomics, computational biology and an array of cutting-edge multi 'omics capabilities. The field of 'omics explores how genes, proteins and various metabolic products interact. The term arises from research that explores the function of biological components within the context of the entire cell to understand how organisms work, such as genomics for genes, proteomics for proteins, and so on.

QUT's expertise lies with plant biotechnology, consolidated bioprocessing and process modeling. The QUT Center for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities partners with a wide range of commercial entities and funders such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Both institutions work in advanced thermochemical conversion of biomass to create biofuels, plant-derived chemicals and other bioproducts. The partnership will focus on work that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide low-carbon energy solutions in both countries.