With the world growing an increase in energy demand, the development and use of renewable, sustainable liquid biofuels has become a strategic priority for the EU. Biofuels can minimise energy import dependence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assist rural and agricultural development. Bioethanol can be produced from energy crops that do not compete with food crops for land use. This alcohol can be obtained from biomass feedstock and in particular from cellulose, a sugar present in the cell wall of woody plants.
ENERGYPOPLAR is designed to develop new energy poplar trees having both desirable cell-wall traits and high biomass yield under sustainable low-input conditions to be used as a source of lignocellulosic feedstock for industrial production of bioethanol.
To develop poplar as a second generation bioenergy crop, ENERGYPOPLAR brings together an interdisciplinary group of tree biotechnologists and breeders, hydrolysis and fermentation scientists, environmental specialists and those engaged in commercial-scale development of lignocellulose to ethanol in order to make step-change discoveries that will enable more efficient bioethanol production.
ENERGYPOPLAR will actively promote transfer of technology and biological materials for commercialisation to bioenergy companies, plant breeders, European forest-based and land-based sector, scientists, policy makers and consumers.
ENERGYPOPLAR (FP7-211917) has received an EC contribution of € 3 million in the frame of the priority “Life Sciences, Biotechnology and Biochemistry for Sustainable Non-Food Products and Processes“. This project has started on the 1st March 2008 and it will last for 4 years.
The overall objective of ENERGYPOPLAR is to design new poplar trees with enhanced agronomical traits for industrial production of bioethanol.
In order to use poplar as a bioenergy short rotation coppice crop, suitable for large-scale deployment in Europe in areas unlikely to be used for food agricultural production, ENERGYPOPLAR will :
- Provide a better understanding of fundamental mechanisms determining optimised yield in Populus – identifying several important transcription factor and other candidate genes regulating yield, including nutrient uptake, in bioenergy poplar
- Understand mechanisms that regulate the synthesis of cell wall polysaccharides – improve cellulose content and alter lignin content and quality for improved saccharification
- Provide a better understanding of lignocellulosic quality and in particular the genetic and genomic basis of ‘high cellulose’ trees linked to alterations in the quality and quantity of lignin
- Develop high thoughput, cross-validated assays for lignocellulosic quality using Fourier Transform Infra Red spectroscopy (FTIR) and Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and lignocellulose saccharification potential
- Establish a platform for rapid gene discovery and testing using systems biology approaches to identify novel transcripts for traits of interest
- Bring the approaches identified in (1) – (5) together to develop a delivery pipeline for improved genotypes for ENERGYPOPLAR trees, with traits of interest and to begin the process of commercialisation
- Establish tools for environmental sustainability assessments of SRC Populus growing systems with respect to soil microbial diversity, GHG mitigation, water and other inputs relevant to a changing climate
- Disseminate the results and transfer technology to the energy industry, land-based sector and to appropriate policy makers
The consortium ENERGYPOPLAR is coordinated by Francis Martin, from the INRA of Nancy. The EC Scientific Officer is Dr. Piero Venturi (Directorate Agriculture, Food and Biotechnologies, DG RTD).
It is composed of 10 public and private European partners:
- Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA – Nancy/France)
- Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (SLU – Umeå/Sweden)
- Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (ALU – Freiburg/Germany)
- Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB – Gent/Belgium)
- University of Southampton (SOTON – Southampton/United Kingdom)
- Istituto di Genomica Applicata (IGA – Udine/Italy)
- Georg-August Universität Göttingen (UGOE – Göttingen/Germany)
- SweTree Technologies (STT – Umeå/Sweden)
- Imperial College (Imperial – London /United Kingdom)
- INRA Transfert (IT – Paris/France)