Berkeley Lab Wins Federal Biofuel Lab

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday June 26, 2007

Berkeley’s bid to become the biofuel research capital of academic and corporate America scored another major advance Tuesday, winning funds to start a second lab major lab. 

U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced that a coalition headed by UC's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) will receive $125 million to create one of three national bioenergy research centers. 

Bodman made the formal announcement to reporters gathered at the National Press Club. LBNL biochemical engineer Jay Keasling stood alongside as one of three winning project directors. 

All three centers will focus on genetic engineering as a way to create new crops along with new microbes and newly discovered enzymes to create a more efficient process for converting plants into fuels for cars, trucks and airplanes. 

Keasling say he hoped that the Joint BioEnergy Institute—or JBEI, “jay-bay as we call it”—would trigger the start of a new way of green biotechnological industry in the Bay area and across the country. 

The Berkeley scientist will head a partnership comprised of Lawrence Berkeley, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories along with UC Davis and Stanford. 

While Bodman said he was barred from saying just how many applications he had received for the three slots, applicants were narrowed to a list numbering “in the teens,” with the winners picked by an international panel of scientists, technologists and figures form the corporate and non-profit realms. 

The Bioenergy Science Center is the name for the winning project for a lab to be led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Other partners are Georgia Institute of Technology; University of Georgia, Athens; University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. 

The third winner, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, is headed by the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Other partners are: the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.; University of Florida, Gainesville; Illinois State University, Normal; Iowa State University, Ames, and the only corporate partner among the winners, Lucigen Corporation of MIddleton, Wisc. 

Each lab will receive up to $25 million a year for five years, and all three labs are focusing on the transformation of cellulose into fuel. 

Keasling, who holds dual appointments at UC Berkeley and the lab, is also heading the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute, a program that will combine academic research with proprietary efforts by program funder BP, the oil company formerly know as British Petroleum. 

That program will be located in a $125 million lab building planned for the LBNL campus in Strawberry Canyon.