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November 13, 2007

Energy Biosciences Institute Begins Ground-Breaking Research Into New, Cleaner Sources of Energy

(BERKELEY, CA) The strategic partners in the Energy Biosciences Institute—BP, the University of California, Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois—announced today that the contract finalizing the formation of EBI has been signed and the Institute’s work is officially underway.

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Dr. Christopher Somerville

The Institute will perform ground-breaking research aimed at the production of new and cleaner energy, initially focusing on advanced biofuels for road transport. The Institute will also pursue bioscience-based research in three other key areas; the conversion of heavy hydrocarbons to clean fuels, improved recovery from existing oil and gas reservoirs and carbon sequestration.

It was also announced today that Dr. Christopher Somerville will become the director of the Institute. Somerville is an authority on the conversion of plant cellulose to energy, and will join the UC Berkeley faculty as a professor of plant and microbial biology. Somerville is a visiting scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and has been director of the Carnegie Institution Department of Plant Biology and a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University since 1994.

As part of its continuing drive to find longer term commercial alternatives to oil and gas, BP announced in 2006 that it would invest $500 million over the next ten years to establish the Institute, the first public-private institution of this scale in the world. The Institute’s emphasis on new fuels meshed with UC Berkeley’s and Berkeley Lab’s research aims to develop sustainable sources of energy and Illinois’ efforts to develop biofuel feedstocks. The three formed a strategic partnership to submit a proposal to BP, which was selected in February 2007 from among five international proposals.

UC Berkeley and its partners were selected in large part because of the quality of their energy-related research and their excellent track records managing large and complex research projects delivering scientific and technological breakthroughs that can be deployed in the real world.

“We are very pleased that the Institute’s journey to develop new, cleaner sources of energy has begun. Our mission is to harness the potential of bioenergy, to make discoveries and to help them become commercially viable so they can benefit the world," said Somerville. “The Institute will also examine the social, economic and environmental implications of using cellulosic biofuels to meet a significant proportion of the earth's energy needs.”

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This summer, the Institute announced a call for preproposals and received more than 250 responses from UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and Illinois researchers. The call for preproposals was done in an open format, allowing submitters the opportunity to tell the Institute what they deemed important or interesting. There was an even rate of participation in the process by UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and Illinois and well-balanced coverage of the major topics of interest to the Institute, including socioeconomic implications. About 85 preproposals were subsequently invited to submit a full proposal, which are currently being evaluated. Awards are expected to be announced this fall, and another round of proposals will be solicited in spring 2008.

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