The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center hired a new Chief Operating Officer who will oversee both the academic and business sides of the organization, officials announced Monday.
The University of Wisconsin established the GLBRC in 2007 after the United States Department of Energy awarded it a five-year, $150 million contract to develop new bio-energy methods.
Daniel Lauffer, former associate director of the Wisconsin Fast Plants program at the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences was chosen to fill the position.
Although UW handles a large portion of the research – upwards of 60 percent – Michigan State University is one of the larger partners, contributing to one third of all the research, according to Tim Donohue, GLBRC director and UW professor of bacteriology.
Donahue said GLBRC employs more than 400 workers, scientists and engineers across campuses at UW, MSU, Iowa State University and Illinois State University.
As COO, Lauffer will be in charge of operational aspects of the center such as business with the private sector, human resources, purchasing power, making sure the center is keeping with federal guidelines and managing interactions with industries to develop biofuels.
Other programs he will help oversee include the operations of all science programs, a new program for training junior scientists, and helping design a new building for the Wisconsin Energy Institute, Donohue said.
One of the big components of the GLBRC is UW’s partnership with MSU. As the new COO, Lauffer will spend much time in East Lansing, Mich., as evidenced by his four-day stead there last week, Donahue added.
Lauffer will do many of the same tasks at MSU that he does at UW in dealing with both academic and business sides of the center, Donahue said.
“[Lauffer] has a wide variety of relevant expertise,” Donohue said. “He knows how to migrate the academic world and the private sector interactions and he is a great team leader who knows how to solve problems.”
Even though both universities are part of the same organization, the two sites focus on different aspects of research, according to Tom Schmidt, a professor of microbiology at MSU and a project leader researching microbial communities.
“The MSU center is researching how biofuel crops influence the greenhouse gases that are emitted from the soil, and trying to find out which biofuels are the most sustainable,” Schmidt said.
Conversely, UW focuses on developing efficient biofuels using non-edible parts of plants to generate cellulosic biofuel, such as using the sugars in corn stalks rather than corn starch, Donohue said.
Schmidt complimented the partnership of the two schools, saying while both universities are accomplished in each area, UW researchers have shown tremendous expertise in the production of biofuel, while at MSU they have a strong knowledge of ecology and plant biology.
The grant awarded to UW to establish the GLBRC will expire Nov., 2012, but UW has programs in development to ensure the contract will be renewed so the GLBRC can continue their research, Donahue said.