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Brazilian bioenergy research has received a boost with the launch of a new research programme promoting cooperation between academic institutions and industry.

Bioenergy Research Programme (BIOEN), run by the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), is expected to gain US$130 million of investment over the next five years.

It will fund research projects on plant improvement and sugarcane farming, ethanol industrial technologies, bio-refinery technologies and alcohol chemistry, ethanol applications for motor vehicles, and research into the social, economic and environmental impacts of using and producing biofuels.

The programme will receive an initial investment of US$46 million provided by FAPESP, Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the State of Minas Gerais Research Foundation (FAPEMIG) and Dedini, one of the private companies involved.

Brazil produces 35 per cent of the world's ethanol. About 62 per cent of this is produced in São Paulo.

"To maintain this leadership, we have to strengthen research on bioenergy, so the Brazilian scientists can participate in global debates on this area," Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP scientific director, told to SciDev.Net.

In addition to academic activities, BIOEN will work with private companies in Brazil's bioethanol industry to bring new technologies to industry sooner. BIOEN will also identify market needs and select scientific institutions to address them.

Although FAPESP expects many of the projects to be on ethanol, the programme is open to funding research on other forms of bioenergy, such as biodiesel and biogas. They are also open to social research that investigates, for example, working conditions in the sugarcane industry and the impacts of mechanisation of the harvest.

"It is important to understand how agricultural industry can change. If previous activity was focused only on food, now it's also related to energy production," notes Brito.

The programme will also seek partnerships with other Brazilian states. One agreement has already been established with FAPEMIG to fund research collaborations between São Paulo and Minas Gerais researchers.