Friday, June 29, 2007

UC Davis Gets Energy Lab

UC Davis Gets Energy Lab
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UC Davis researchers will be partners in a new $125 million federal bioenergy research center, the U.S. Department of Energy announced this week.

The funds will establish and support the partnership of three national laboratories and three research universities in northern California, including UC Davis, to be known as the federal Energy Department's Joint BioEnergy Institute.

Research at the Northern California JBEI will focus on biofuels - liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant matter. UC Davis' work will be based in the Plant Genomics Program and the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, deciphering the structure of the plant cell walls being converted to fuels and of the microbes doing the converting.

The chief JBEI researcher at UC Davis will be Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology and chair of the Plant Genomics Program. Ronald is an expert on the genome of rice.

"We will be studying rice as a model grass crop, as well another plant model, Arabidopsis, to understand exactly how the cell wall is constructed," Ronald said. Other UC Davis scientists will be looking for microbes that are particularly adept at degrading those cell walls, which is a key step in the biofuels production process.

Of the $125 million, about $5 million will come to UC Davis, Ronald said.

The JBEI partners are UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Start-up leadership for the project will come from the Berkeley Lab.

"These centers will provide the transformational science needed for bioenergy breakthroughs to advance President Bush's goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012, and assist in reducing America's gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years," said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

"The collaborations of academic, corporate, and national laboratory researchers represented by these centers are truly impressive and I am very encouraged by the potential they hold for advancing America's energy security."

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