Bioenergy Boost

The campaign to make the Midwest 'ground zero' for alternative energy innovation got a lift today when the United States Department of Energy awarded two of the region's major universities a $125 million grant to establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

The center, one of three announced around the nation, is the result of a partnership between the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University. It will be headquartered in Madison and focus on transforming plants into fuel.

“Large scale production of cellulosic biofeuls could usher in a new green economy across the nation," said Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman.

"These centers will provide the transformational science needed for bioenergy breakthroughs to [make] cellulosic ethanol cost competitive with gasoline by 2012 and assist in reducing America’s gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years,” Dr. Bodman added.

Whether this relatively small investment is on the scale necessary to reverse the economic decline of the Rust Belt, or restore America's standing, is doubtful. But every Great Lakes leader with both oars in the water has a plan to pump up energy innovation. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Party affiliations aside, they've all delivered rousing - but provincial - speeches about how their state will be the one to "kick America's dependence on foreign oil."

In the very least, this latest announcement officially unites Michigan and Wisconsin in pursuit of the common goal and illustrates the region has increased power - economic, political, or plant - when the separate states join to act as one.

"The funding of this center provides a unique opportunity for Wisconsin and the Midwest to be leaders in the process that transforms the way we produce and use energy," said UW Professor of Bacteriology Tim Donohue.

“This center is a great achievement for MSU researchers,” said Ian Gray, vice president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State. “Linking the wealth of talent at MSU in plant-related activities with the strengths of researchers at the University of Wisconsin is a dream partnership. This center will have a significant impact on agriculture and manufacturing throughout the Great Lakes region and beyond."

Click here to link to a Webcast of the DOE's announcement.