Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Energy Department picks Bay Area for new bioenergy institute

Energy Department picks Bay Area for new bioenergy institute

San Francisco Business Times - 11:50 AM PDT Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will lead one of three new U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Centers, the federal government said Tuesday, intended to accelerate basic research of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels.

The DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute - along with sibling research centers in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Madison, Wis. - includes University of California campuses at Berkeley and Davis, Stanford University, the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Tuesday that the department will invest up to $375 million in the three centers as part of President Bush's "Twenty in Ten" initiative, which seeks to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent within 10 years.

The centers are expected to begin work in 2008 and be fully operational in 2009.

The Energy Department will fund the centers for the first five years of operation, through fiscal 2013.

"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," Bodman said in a press release.

Jay Keasling, who will be the director of the Berkeley institute, said during a press conference Tuesday that the Joint BioEnergy Institute will work with the BP Energy Biosciences Institute, funded earlier this year with a $500 million award from oil giant BP.

"It will be complementary, but it doesn't overlap," Keasling said.

The Joint BioEnergy Institute will work on liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass, specifically the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into biofuels.

Lignocellulose, the most abundant organic material on the planet, is a mix of complex sugars and lignin that gives strength and structure to plant cell walls. By extracting simple fermentable sugars from lignocellulose and producing biofuels from them, the potential of the most energy-efficient and environmentally benign fuel crops can be realized.

Other members of the Joint BioEnergy Institute leadership team are Harvey Blanch, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley, as chief science and technology officer; Wolf Frommer of Stanford as vice president of feedstocks; Blake Simmons of Sandia as vice president of deconstruction; Paul Adams of the Berkeley Lab as vice president of technology; and Kathe Andrews-Cramer of Sandia as vice president of strategic integration.

In all, the centers will bring together diverse teams of researchers from 18 of the nation's leading universities, seven Energy Department national laboratories, at least one nonprofit organization and some private companies. All three will use different plants both for laboratory research and for improving feedstock crops.

Officials at the Tuesday press conference said the research could have potential applications beyond biofuels.

The department's Office of Science in August 2006 called for competitive applications, and government officials said the three centers were chosen following a merit-based, competitive review process that included external scientific peer review of the applications.

Government officials would not say how many applications were received.

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