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June 26, 2007

Bay Area Partnership to Host DOE Bioscience Center

BERKELEY, CA — Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman has announced that a partnership of three national laboratories and three research universities in the San Francisco Bay Area has been chosen to host one of three bioenergy research centers, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through its Biological and Environmental Research Genomics:GTL research program in the Office of Science. This new center will be known as the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and is expected to receive $125 million in DOE funding over five years.

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Samuel W. Bodman

The DOE JBEI’s six partners are the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, and the Carnegie Institution. Plans call for the DOE JBEI to be headquartered in a leased building in the East Bay, central to all partners. Initial work will take place at the West Berkeley Biocenter on Potter Street in Berkeley.

The other two DOE Bionergy Research Centers are the DOE BioEnergy Research Center, led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, in close collaboration with Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

“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,” Secretary Bodman said. “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.”

Research at the DOE JBEI will focus on biofuels – liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. Harnessing even a tiny fraction of the total solar energy available each year could meet most if not all of the nation’s annual transportation energy needs.

“The selection of the DOE JBEI is a major vote of confidence in the Bay Area’s growing leadership in the national effort to develop new and cleaner sources of renewable energy,” said Jay Keasling, Director of Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and a UCB Professor of Chemical Engineering, who has been designated as the DOE JBEI’s Chief Executive Officer.

Potential of Biofuels

Scientific studies have consistently ranked biofuels among the top candidates for meeting large-scale energy needs, particularly in the transportation sector. However, the commercial-scale production of clean, efficient, cost-effective biofuels will require technology-transforming scientific breakthroughs.

Researchers at the DOE JBEI intend to meet this challenge through the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into biofuels. Lignocelluose, 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.

“The DOE JBEI will be a center of intellectual thought and provide energy research leadership designed to meet its program objectives quickly and effectively,” said Graham Fleming, Deputy Director of Berkeley Lab, the lead institution in the DOE JBEI partnership.

The DOE JBEI Approach

The DOE JBEI researchers will tackle key scientific problems that currently hinder the cost-effective conversion of lignocellulose into biofuels and other important chemicals. They will also develop the tools and infrastructure to accelerate future biofuel research and production efforts, and help transition new technologies into the commercial sector. The goal of the DOE JBEI is to achieve measurable success within the next five years.

Jay Keasling
Jay Keasling

“The DOE JBEI will be organized like a biotech startup company, with very focused research objectives, and a structure to enable it to quickly pursue promising scientific and technological developments,” said Keasling. “In addition, the DOE JBEI will seek collaborations with companies that have relevant scientific and market capabilities in energy, agribusiness, and biotechnology.”

The DOE JBEI organization will feature four interdependent science and technology divisions: Feedstocks, aimed at improving plants that serve as the raw materials for ethanol and the next generation of biofuels; Deconstruction, aimed at investigating the molecular mechanisms behind the breakdown of lignocellulose into fermentable sugars; Fuels Synthesis, in which microbes that can efficiently convert sugar into biofuels will be engineered; and Cross-cutting Technologies, which will be dedicated to the development and optimization of enabling technologies that support and integrate the DOE JBEI research.

“This organizational structure and culture is intended to ensure rapid commercialization of the DOE JBEI R&D,” Keasling said.

In addition to maintaining an Industry Partnership Program, the DOE JBEI research will be guided by an Industry Advisory Board whose membership will come from key sectors, including feedstocks, enzymes, fuels production, biotechnology, genetics and chemistry.

The Partnership

Each of the member institutes of the DOE JBEI brings unique capabilities to the partnership. The national laboratory partners operate state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation and research facilities, such as the Molecular Foundry, the Advanced Light Source and the National Center for Electron Microscopy at Berkeley Lab; the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications project, and the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia; and the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and the MicroArray Center at LLNL.

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In addition, Berkeley Lab and LLNL are part of the five-national-laboratory partnership that operates DOE’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI), which carries out sequencing projects that accelerate research in energy, agriculture and carbon sequestration.

Computational capabilities will be provided through Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, and the Red Storm Supercomputer at Sandia.

The DOE JBEI partner institutions have been home to Nobel Laureates and a profusion of award-winning scientists and engineers. UC Berkeley, in collaboration with the Berkeley Lab, is home to the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC); the UC Davis Plant Genomics Program and the UC Davis Genome Center integrate experimental and computational approaches to address key problems at the forefront of microbial and plant biology; and Stanford is the host to the Department of Plant Biology of the Carnegie Institution.

In addition to CEO Keasling, who is also vice president for Fuels Synthesis, other members of the DOE JBEI leadership team include Harvey Blanch, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley, Chief Science and Technology Officer; Wolf Frommer, Stanford University, VP Feedstocks; Blake Simmons, Sandia, VP Deconstruction; Paul Adams, Berkeley Lab, VP Technology; and Kathe Andrews-Cramer, Sandia, VP Strategic Integration.


Steve Chu, Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (lead institution in the DOE JBEI partnership)

"It is an honor to be recognized by the Department of Energy as one of the intellectual centers for the development of alternative fuels and sustainable energy. With the generous investments made by both the federal government and private industry, I am certain that we and our colleagues in this most important endeavor will meet the challenges to transition our nation to low-carbon or carbon-free energy.”

Thomas Hunter, President and Director of Sandia National Laboratories

“Diversifying our energy supply is a critical priority for the nation. Achieving that goal will require new scientific breakthroughs and rapid translation of science into scalable technologies. This partnership will enable a synthesis of biosciences and engineering that will transform the nation's biofuel research capabilities. With the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, Sandia joins California’s extraordinary national laboratories and leading research universities as we move forward to set a new standard for renewable energy research.”

Cherry Murray, Deputy Director of Science and Technology, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

“Livermore Lab, in collaborations with its sister national laboratories and academic partners, is pleased to be able to use its extensive analytical and imaging abilities to help crack one of the nation's biggest objectives: developing alternative fuels and sustainable energy."

Robert Dynes, President of the University of California

“The University of California is extremely pleased with today’s decision by the Secretary of Energy to award a bioenergy research center to the Joint Bioenergy Institute, a team that includes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, Stanford University and Sandia National Laboratory. This team has deep and extensive expertise and knowledge that will make this center a front-line leader in bioenergy research – a field with enormous promise for addressing the serious energy security and global warming problems our Nation faces. Today’s decision is a testament to the work already being done at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and throughout the University of California system in this critical area of energy research. As our nation looks for solutions to the energy challenges that lie ahead, we are confident they will be looking west to this bioenergy research center and the University of California.”

Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor University of California at Berkeley

"With funding now in place, the DOE JBEI is perfectly positioned to build upon the extraordinary scientific and scholarly partnerships we have brought together in California in our quest to develop the clean, sustainable energy our world needs. We are honored and excited by DOE's support and we look forward to our role in meeting the national goal for clean transportation fuels."

Pam Ronald, Chair, Plant Genomics Program at UC Davis and Director, JBEI Grass Genetics group

“The co-location of the DOE JBEI scientists will facilitate the daily conversations critical to scientific success.”

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