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Biological Sciences for Energy Research

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Arabidopsis plants in the growth room at the
Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI)

Biomass encompasses all plant or vegetative materials and represents a vast repository of solar energy that was captured and stored in plant sugars via photosynthesis. Extracting and fermenting plant sugars into advanced biofuels that can replace gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis has the potential to far exceed today’s entire global production of oil. Berkeley Lab researchers are working towards this goal via three major efforts – the Joint BioEnergy Institute, the Joint Genome Institute, and the Energy Biosciences Institute.

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI)

JBEI is one of the three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Research Centers. This scientific partnership is led by Berkeley Lab and includes the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). JBEI’s five-year mission, which DOE has funded at $135 million, is to advance the development of the next generation of biofuels. JBEI carries out its research through four interlocking divisions: Feedstocks, Deconstruction, Fuels Synthesis, and Technologies.

The Joint Genome Institute (JGI)

Established by DOE in 1997 as part of the Human Genome Project, JGI was designated as a DOE national user facility in 2004. Today JGI researchers survey the biosphere to characterize organisms relevant to the DOE science missions of bioenergy, global carbon cycling and biogeochemistry. They also provide high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis of genes related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. JGI unites the expertise of Berkeley Lab and the national laboratories of Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and the Pacific Northwest, plus the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI)

EBI is a partnership between UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and the University of Illinois. Funded by a $500 million, ten-year grant from the energy company BP, researchers at EBI are charged with using biology, the physical sciences, engineering, and environmental and social sciences to devise viable solutions to global energy challenges and reduce the impact of fossil fuels on global warming. The world’s first research institution solely dedicated to energy bioscience, EBI research is initially focused on the development of next-generation biofuels, but is also looking into various applications of biology to the energy sector.