University of Bath scientists will lead a £1.83m project alongside Brazilian colleagues to develop new, more cost-effective ways to produce fuels and chemicals from plant matter.

The Bath team, led by Professor David Leak, involves researchers from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, Department of Chemical Engineering, the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies and the Water Innovation & Research Centre. They will work with UK colleagues from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University and Imperial College London and a team from Unicamp in São Paulo Brazil.

Funding for the four-year project has been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Prof Leak said: “The recent fall in the price of oil has hit the biofuel industry hard, particularly those companies developing processes that utilise woody feedstocks. While the production of fuels and chemicals from these feedstocks should be more beneficial for the environment and avoids the ‘food versus fuel’ problem associated with starch-based feedstocks, it is uneconomic using current technology.

“In this project we will explore new techniques to degrade complex carbohydrates more efficiently, using less energy and fewer resources. It requires close integration between biologists and engineers and complimentary expertise in working with different microbial systems. Between the UK and Brazil we have assembled an excellent team that meets these requirements and is well placed to address the scientific challenges involved. We are keen to get started and excited about the possibilities that this partnership brings.”

Steve Visscher, BBSRC deputy chief executive – international, said: “This joint call, led by FAPESP, demonstrates the strength of the BBSRC-FAPESP relationship and builds upon long-standing collaborations between UK and Brazilian scientists. This investment demonstrates BBSRC’s continued commitment to Bioenergy as one of our strategic priorities, and the benefits of working with global partners to address its challenges.”