$3m boost to biofuels and protein research

Friday, 18 September, 2009
Dan Gaffney

The research capacity of two UNSW research facilities has been strengthened by a $3m upgrade from UNSW and the NSW and Federal Governments.

UNSW's revamped Recombinant Products Laboratory and Biofuels Research Laboratory were opened today by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry, Richard Marles MP and the NSW Minister for Science and Medical Research, Jodie McKay MP.

The facilities received financial support under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program and the NSW State Leverage Funds (SLF) that assist Australian research organizations and companies do world-class research by funding major facilities and supporting infrastructure.

The Biofuels Research Laboratory is a leader in new "second generation" technology for converting non-food based cellulosic biomass to ethanol. Based in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and led by Professor Peter Rogers, it has an international reputation in the biofuels field.

The laboratory has track records of research and development contracts with Australian and international companies and agencies including Dupont, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the US Department of Energy, BASF, CSR, Orica and Manildra.

The largest single use of ethanol is as a non-fossil fuel and fuel additive. Traditionally ethanol has been produced from sugar and starch-based raw materials. However in the longer term, second generation processes based on cellulosic materials from agricultural and forestry residues and/or high yield biomass energy crops offer greater potential for increased ethanol production.

Recent volatility in the price of oil, security advantages of increased domestic production, environmental benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for regional development, have sparked increasing interest in the production of biofuels such as ethanol. World production of ethanol in 2006 was 51 billion litres and is predicted to rise to 100 billion litres per year by 2014.

The Australian ethanol market has expanded in response to rapidly increasing oil imports (currently in the range of $A15-18 billion per annum). In 2008 the NSW Government mandated the use of two per cent ethanol in petrol rising to 10 per cent by 2011. This has stimulated increased fuel ethanol production in NSW and new agreements with oil industry partners.

UNSW's revamped Recombinant Products Facility provides services in cell engineering, bioprocess development, fermentation, cell culture and protein purification to the Australian research community and industry. It represents one of four such "nodes" to provide a co-ordinated national research infrastructure capability.

The Recombinant Products Facility was established 15 years ago and is led by Dr Chris Marquis from the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. The facility comprises a dedicated bio-processing laboratory complex including specialist facilities for fermentation, downstream processing, cell culture and a preparative area.

Recombinant DNA technology involves "engineering" cells with segments of DNA that "instruct" the cells to make new proteins. This technology enables production of large amounts of protein for basic research through to production of commercial quantities. It assists researchers to understand the structure and function of proteins which could help them develop new vaccines and therapeutics.

Protein therapeutics is a fast-growing area of drug development and could lead to the better diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer, coronary disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and infectious diseases.

  • Media contacts
    Dr Chris Marquis - Director, UNSW Recombinant Products Laboratory +612 9385 3898,
  • Professor Peter Rogers - Director, UNSW Biofuels Research Laboratory +612 9385 3896,
  • Dan Gaffney - UNSW Media contact, 0411 156 015