Biofuels Research Lab officially opens

A ribbon-cutting ceremony June 23 officially opened the new $6 million, 11,000-square-foot Cornell Biofuels Research Laboratory (BRL) in Riley Robb Hall.

Leading the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Cornell President David Skorton; Patrick Hooker, commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; and Susan Henry, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"The Biofuels Research Laboratory catapults Cornell to the forefront of renewable energy research and becomes the centerpiece of the university's broad portfolio of work on cellulosic biofuel and bioproducts," said Henry. The multidisciplinary BRL serves as the hub of Cornell's research and development of sustainable and economical biofuels derived from nonfood crops. Its goal is to develop renewable energy sources and stimulate economic opportunities for New York agriculture.

"Many stand to benefit from the work of the Biofuels Research Laboratory, which holds great promise for transforming our economy and alleviating our nation's energy crisis," Henry said. "New York farmers will see new opportunities to grow the plant material used as inputs, workers will see job growth in the bioenergy sector, and we all gain from a more sustainable energy supply."

The Cornell researchers, including principal investigator Larry Walker, professor of biological and environmental engineering, focus on creating cellulosic ethanol -- a process that frees sugars from perennial grasses and woody biomass, then biologically converts that material into fuel. Unlike corn ethanol, which grew popular in recent years as gasoline prices climbed, cellulosic ethanol is derived from such nonfood crops as switchgrass, sorghum and willow, so it has little effect on food prices. Most of the stocks used in the biofuels lab can thrive on marginal lands that normally would go unused. Cellulosic ethanol, therefore, holds greater long-term promise than corn ethanol.

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Blaine Friedlander