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Supercharged grass for bioenergy

A bioenergy technology developed by Australian scientists uses supercharged photosynthesis – the natural process of plants converting sunlight and CO2 into biomass and usable energy – increasing its potential for bioenergy generation.

Executive Director of BioSciences Research at the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in Victoria, Australia, Professor German Spangenberg, says photosynthetic cells for fructan biosynthesis in popular forage grasses has been reprogrammed, leading to some “remarkable results.”

“By applying this technology to temperate grasses such as perennial ryegrass and tall fescue in glasshouse and field trials, we have shown significantly higher dry matter yields. Recent trials have recorded a doubling of plant biomass double compared to existing varieties,” Professor Spangenberg says.

“Just as importantly, we have been able to enhance energy content in the biotech grasses when compared to control plants. The new technology reprogrammes the photosynthetic cells of grasses to produce and store more sugars known as fructans,” he adds.

“These two elements combined means we have developed plants that produce more biomass with a higher sugar content, making them far better suited for use as a biofeedstocks or biofuels.”

Professor Spangenberg says the bioenergy technology has opened opportunities to enhance harvestable carbon yields and bioconversion efficiency of lignocellulosic biomass for applications in new dedicated biofuel perennial grasses and other dedicated biofuel crops, as well as to explore its use in warm season grasses, which have higher water use efficiency and are better adapted for growth in marginal agricultural land and warmer target environments under scenarios of climate change.

The State Government of Victoria, Australia, and La Trobe University have invested A$288 million in AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience.

AgriBio is expected to be fully operational in 2012.

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