DOE Awards $100 Million for Innovative Energy Research; BETCy EFRC launched at Montana State

Montana State University is leading a group of scientists from seven institutions who have earned a $10-million, four-year federal research grant to hunt for breakthroughs in producing more energy from biofuels. The Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis (BETCy) center was named by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz as part of a $100 million funding package for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.

BETCy research team gathers at Montana State University
The BETCy EFRC research team gathered for the first time on the MSU campus in Bozeman Aug. 27-28 to begin plans for its four-year Department of Energy-funded project.
BETCy team members collaborate on research methodologies at NREL workshop

Scientists from the Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis (BETCy) Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) recently met at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.  The five-day workshop was designed to build team synergy and give team members the opportunity to share methodologies.  The goal was to develop new strategies first hand in the laboratory for moving forward on the Center's goal of researching bifurcating enzymes.

The November program focused on redox properties and transient absorption spectroscopy of EFRC bifurcating flavoenzymes.  Developing these tools will enable new mechanistic details toward understanding how these unique enzymes operate.  

The workshop was led by Dr. Robert Usselman of Montana State University and Dr. David Mulder of NREL.  Dr. Usselman is a research scientist in the John Peters Lab, and Dr. Mulder is a research scientist in NREL's Bioenergy Science and Technology Division. Mulder received his PhD from MSU, where he was also a member of the Peters Lab.

 Participating scientists hailed from NREL, MSU, and the University of Kentucky. All three institutions are key partners in the BETCy EFRC. 

Missouri- and Montana-based EFRCs form outreach partnership


Hands-on educational materials developed at the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC) Energy Frontier Research Center recently made the long trek to Montana to support teachers affiliated with the Montana Small Schools Association. MSSA is the Montana affiliate of the National Rural Educators Association and is a professional development organization designed to support Montana's rural schools. Forty-five of Montana's 56 counties are considered frontier (less than 6 people per square mile), and Montana has more one-room schools than any other state in the U.S. (Nebraska is second). One of the MSSA member schools has just two students!


The teacher workshops were held in February at three sites around Montana - Butte, Billings and Great Falls. Bill McLaughlin, a Montana State University chemistry professor affiliated with MSU's EFRC (the Biological Electron Transfer & Catalysis Center, or BETCy) led teacher workshops on "Basic Energy Concepts" with hands-on modules on four renewable energy sources (wind, biofuel from algae, hydrogen fuel cells and solar). About 70 teachers representing 25 rural schools participated.


McLaughlin utilized Solar Energy kit materials from PARC - which is based at Washington University in St. Louis -- to inform teachers about light sources, filters, distance variables and series connections on voltages. Teachers were able to work with photovoltaic cells, learn about solar panels and build a solar car. PARC offers many such kits, all designed to assist teachers in helping students tackle real world questions related to maximizing energy from renewable sources.


In January, prior to the MSSA workshops, a Montana-based outreach specialist from BETCy had visited St. Louis to learn more about PARC's outreach programs and discuss areas for future collaboration.

BETCy ORNL Oak Ridge National Lab logo
Montana State's Stephen Keable receives DOE Graduate Student Research Award

 Stephen Keable, a graduate student in chemistry/biochemistry at Montana State University and a member of the John Peters Lab group, has received a Graduate Student Research award from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. The program is designed to prepare graduate students for science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) careers in areas that are critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission. 

Keable will receive supplemental funding to conduct part of his thesis research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN. His appointment at ORNL will run from Feb. 23 to July 30. Keable will be working with Dr. Dean Myles and Dr. Flora Meilleur on neutron crystallography experiments.

Learn more about the Office of Science Graduate Student Research(SCGSR) program at:

BETCy researchers published in PNAS

Congratulations to authors from BETCy EFRC who were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Goniometer-based femtosecond crystallography with X-ray free electron lasers" was co-authored by John Peters, Stephen Keable, and Oleg A. Zadvornyy of Montana State University along with several other collaborators.

BETCy researchers publish comprehensive review on hydrogenases

BETCy EFRC Director John Peters and three other BETCy Principal Investigators recently published a comprehensive review covering the scope of diversity, mechanism, and maturation for [FeFe]- and [NiFe]-hydrogenases. The paper couples the distribution of these hydrogenases with the latest insights and future challenges of research on the mechanism of reversible hydrogen oxidation and the biosynthesis and maturation of the active site metal clusters.

"[FeFe]- and [NiFe]-hydrogenase diversity, mechanism, and maturation" was published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. The review was co-authored by John Peters, Gerrit Schut, Eric Boyd, David Mulder, Eric Shepard, Joan Broderick, Paul King, and Michael Adams.