CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With the support of a $3.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers will take the first steps toward engineering two new oil-rich crops. They aim to boost the natural, oil-producing capabilities of sugarcane and sorghum, increase the crops' photosynthetic power and in the case of sugarcane enhance the plant's cold tolerance so that it can grow in more northerly climes.
The initiative, led by researchers at the University of Illinois in collaboration with scientists at the University of Florida, the University of Nebraska and the Brookhaven National Laboratory, will make use of recent advances in plant biotechnology and computer modeling to produce high-yielding, cold-tolerant, photosynthetically efficient crops that can be used in the production of biodiesel and jet fuel.
Once they have matured, sugarcane and sorghum spend much of their energy making and storing sugars, he said.
"We are proposing to subvert that mechanism in the plant to, instead of making sugar, use the products of photosynthesis to make oils and deposit those in the stems."
These natural plant oils, known as triacylglycerols, can be converted into diesel and jet fuel by a chemical process known as hydro-treatment.
"Ethanol is somewhat problematic in that we don't have any pipelines for distributing it around the country," Long said. "And we have to deal with the blend-wall that is, most current cars cannot deal with more than 10 percent ethanol, setting a limit on the amount of gasoline we can replace at present."
Traditional oil-producing plants, such
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign