On the Cutting Edge
Biofuel Benefits May Spill Into Solano
Reports that the University of California, Berkeley, has won a $500 million grant to develop the field of biofuels represents good news on three fronts.
First, it moves the Bay Area to the center of the worldwide quest for cleaner fuel and an overdue effort to curb global warming.
Second, it puts Solano County in a position to take advantage of opportunities for economic development.
And third, it shows that our governor and state leaders are able to open the doors for new business ventures when they choose to - even if they don't choose that option often enough to satisfy us. Still, this is a welcome start.
By way of background: Last week, energy giant BP Amoco PLC, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the governor of Illinois announced the pioneer effort to use biology to produce fuels. These "biofuels," as they are known, could lead us into a post-oil economy - and that has profound implications for our environment and our lives.
Last June, BP announced it would invest $500 million for research into alternatives to oil and gas and was looking for an academic institution to lead the effort. The competition was fierce, with MIT, UC San Diego and a team made up of Cambridge University and the Imperial College of London vying for the research institute. The vast and cutting-edge work that UC Berkeley has already done in the research and development of alternative fuels made it a logical site for the new center.
Under Gov. Schwarzenegger's leadership, a proposed state grant of $40 million was added to help secure the facility. Funds for the grant - which played a significant role in the choice of UC Berkeley - will come from lease-revenue bonds that must still be approved by the Legislature.
We applaud Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's leadership on this matter and we hope that lawmakers will join him in offering this incentive.
Illinois was included in the effort because it is a major producer of corn-based ethanol and the University of Illinois is the home of the Institute of Genomic Biology, which also researches alternative fuels. As part of their collaboration, the universities also will explore the development of cheaper and more efficient means of turning sunlight into electricity.
In the words of one professor, a global effort is converging at Berkeley.
And with Solano County only 29 minutes away, there is hope that some of the economic benefits of the effort will reach here. As Michael Ammann, president of Solano Economic Development Corporation, explained: "We need to keep in mind that this is a regional institute. Our expanding research community and our location between the Bay Area and Sacramento positions Solano County to become a major player."
The research will offer multiple advantages, including jobs and wealth related to new industries. New companies are already being formed in the Bay Area. Experts predict the growth of a huge industry. In addition, new fuel crops could improve our country's rural and farm economies and alternative fuel sources will reduce our dependence on the volatile Middle East.
Most of all, however, alternative fuel will lessen the carbon emissions that create the greenhouse gases causing global warming. It's a tremendous source of pride that the Bay Area will be a leader in solving this potentially apocalyptic problem.
After too many years of ignoring the escalating environmental crisis, people are finally taking climate issues seriously. And the Bay Area, which includes Solano County, is at the center of the crusade.
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