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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Energy Biosciences Institute proposal summary

Submitted by:
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


The University of California, Berkeley (UCB), the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) were invited last year to submit a proposal to partner with BP to create the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI). In the detailed proposal request that UC Berkeley (along with four other lead institutions) received, BP characterized the EBI as a major, pioneering effort to answer our urgent global need to develop new energy sources that will be sustainable, commercially viable, and environmentally friendly. This goal resonated strongly with scientific and energy policy research currently being pursued at our three institutions.

Though we faced very strong competition from a select field of peer institutions also invited to submit a proposal, we knew that we could collectively offer qualities and capabilities that would strongly align with BP's ambitious vision and hopes for the EBI: these included important core values and research philosophies, and unparalleled expertise and resources in the areas of alternative energy research and policy. In January, we experienced the great honor of being selected by BP to partner with the company in this historic project.

Our proposal to BP had the following premise: the EBI is not to be just another research institute, but rather an extraordinary marshaling of human and infrastructure resources for the purpose of inventing and developing disruptive technologies that will address the energy needs of our global community. The Institute will assemble teams of scientists that will seek total-system solutions to the production of biofuels that are cost effective and carbon neutral. The EBI will create the next generation of scientists deeply knowledgeable in all areas of bioenergy and committed to the vision of the EBI, and will serve as a model for the type of large-scale academic-industry partnerships that will play an increasingly important role in solving the major global problems of the 21st century.

Qualifications of the Partnership — Overview

The qualifications that UCB, LBNL, and UIUC collectively bring to the EBI include world-class research programs, facilities, and other resources in all of the areas relevant to the Institute's initial and future priorities, from production of biofuels and related approaches to carbon-neutral energy, to biologically enhanced recovery and utilization of fossil fuels. All three institutions have a strong tradition in nurturing multidisciplinary initiatives, institutes, and projects; this multidisciplinary orientation enlivens not only science and engineering at the three campuses, but also the social sciences, humanities, and professions at UCB and UIUC. We also have a demonstrated tradition for reaching out and inviting collaborations with leading experts throughout the world that range from single investigator—driven initiatives to proactive recruitment of collaborations that can best utilize our extensive user facilities. The partnership also offers UCB's and LBNL's many connections with, and proximity to, California's biotechnology ecosystem — the world's largest — and UIUC's many connections with its surrounding agricultural and agritech communities.

Vision for the Energy Biosciences Institute

Character, Mission, and Goals. Our vision of the EBI is of a research community that harnesses the most creative science and innovative technologies to develop technically feasible and economically viable solutions to global energy challenges. No single scientific discipline will likely produce optimal technologies for the creation of biofuels, since each research area is likely to be constrained by boundary conditions determined outside of any specific discipline. Meeting this challenge requires a collaborative, multidisciplinary, and interactive research community.

The success of the EBI will be greatly enhanced by a multidisciplinary facility housing researchers in chemistry, physics, engineering, materials sciences, genomics, and biology, working collectively in contiguous work space. Physical space constructed to house the EBI will be designed specifically to achieve an interactive research environment.

Overall, the EBI will be unified and propelled by a common purpose of working to solve a global problem of great magnitude and urgency, the excitement of performing pioneering research and utilizing innovative research methodologies, and the goal of expeditiously bringing transformative energy technologies to the marketplace.

Connecting Academic Research to Industry. The EBI will be a home to basic exploratory research, while also remaining focused on those areas of science and those technologies that have the most promise for transitioning into the marketplace. UCB's and LBNL's extensive relationships with California's world-leading biotechnology cluster will play an invaluable role. As an example, Jay Keasling's laboratory has demonstrated the quick transition from academic research on artemisinin, which showed that bacteria could synthesize this anti-malarial miracle drug, to the development of an industrial-scale process through the founding of Amyris Biotechnologies.

BP's extensive research and technology expertise and business-industry leadership will strongly differentiate the EBI from other primarily academic research enterprises. This knowledge base will greatly enhance the Institute's potential to develop and bring to the world transformative energy technologies and train new scientists who can further connect academic and industrial research in bioenergy.

State-of-the-Art Facilities. The partnering institutions collectively offer a wide range of state-of-the-art and one-of-a-kind facilities that will enable the Institute to perform research at the highest level. These include a new Biomolecular Nanotechnology Center due to open in 2007 (UCB), the Central California 900-MHz NMR Spectrometer Facility (UCB), the Advanced Light Source synchrotron facility (LBNL), the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology (LBNL), the National Center for Electron Microscopy (LBNL), the Molecular Foundry nanoscience facility (LBNL), the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (LBNL), the Joint Genome Institute (JGI), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (UIUC), the Institute for Genomic Biology (UIUC), the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (UIUC), and the USDA National Maize Germplasm Collection and Network of Agricultural Experimental Stations (UIUC), among others.

Organization of the Institute. We have proposed six major research programs that will organize our work at the EBI. The first four comprise the core scientific programs: Feedstock Development, Biomass Depolymerization, Biofuels Production, and Fossil Fuel Bioprocessing & Carbon Sequestration. A fifth program will focus on the social issues and economics of biofuels, and a sixth program, Discovery and Development Research Centers, will support all of the scientific divisions. These six divisions will serve as the formal structure to direct and coordinate the science carried out in approximately 25 EBI thematic laboratories.

The EBI thematic laboratories will be enabled to carry out basic and applied research in energy biosciences by significant direct financial support from the EBI. The creation of EBI research teams and projects will be as streamlined as possible, in keeping with the underlying culture of an institute that fosters the formation of self-assembling teams of EBI investigators and their groups who can easily reach out to other parts of the Institute, other parts of the partner institutions, and the entire scientific community so that the very best talent can be recruited for a particular project. We envision a flexible, nimble structure to support the formation of new EBIprojects with partner institutions or with new partners that minimizes the time and effort involved.

Management Structure. The Governance Board of the EBI will serve as the highest-level internal governing body of the Institute; it will reflect the shared governance structure of the EBI through high-level representation from BP, UCB, LBNL, and UIUC. In addition, there will be an Executive Committee, an Operations Committee, a Scientific Advisory Board, and Strategic Scientific Advisors. The EBI management team will include an EBI director located at Berkeley, an EBI associate director located at UIUC, and investigators representing various programs. Senior staff will include an administrative director and leadership personnel in the areas of program, facilities, and safety.

Funding. The EBI will be funded by BP. The four partners will impart direction and allocate financial resources to specific EBI activities through their participation on the Governance Board. Funding allocated to the two EBI sites (Berkeley and Illinois), and to research activities within the EBI, will evolve with the work plan.

Staffing. We anticipate that the EBI director will hold a faculty appointment at UCB and a senior scientist position at LBNL. EBI investigators will be appointed from within the ranks of current UCB and UIUC faculty and LBNL scientists and supplemented through strategic recruitments from other institutions; they will be selected based on scientific expertise, creativity, breadth of knowledge in the field, and ability to communicate ideas. Prospective faculty members targeted for recruitment outside the partner institutions will be approved for faculty appointments through the existing practices in place at UCB, UIUC, and, where appropriate, LBNL.

In addition, the EBI investigators will strategically engage expert scientists as EBI collaborators. The Institute will provide funding and EBI-access to the EBI collaborators to enable innovative research that is best carried out in these scientists' own laboratories. Each EBI collaborator will have a formally defined collaborative relationship with an EBI senior investigator. Our goal will be to attract the best minds in the field to participate in the research program of the EBI.

Students who pursue graduate work at the EBI (at either UCB or UIUC) will receive an EBI appointment that will entitle them to access and use of EBI facilities. The EBI will have the authority to recruit and appoint post-docs, technicians, and visiting scientists.

Communication between the UCB and UIUC sites will be facilitated by state-of-the-art video conferencing, real-time collaborative software, and frequent visits by both senior and junior scientists.

Other Activities. Because of its location in the San Francisco Bay Area, where approximately 50,000 people are involved in biotechnology, the EBI will have a large audience who will want to access information and resources available at the Institute. We envision that the EBI will sponsor a regular series of symposia to inform both the public and the professional community about progress in the fields of interest to the EBI. Additionally, because of the high level of entrepreneurial activity in the region, the EBI will sponsor meetings directed specifically toward engaging the business community. We expect such meetings to expand the personal contacts between members of the EBI and the business community in ways that will create new scientific and business opportunities. UIUC will similarly engage the rapidly emerging biofuel feedstock and processing agribusiness community through a series of public and professional presentations, following the highly successful models that it has established with existing major agricultural markets.

Physical Space. The core UCB/LBNL senior investigators and EBI scientists will occupy contiguous space on the UCB campus. During approximately the first three years, the EBI will be located within newly renovated space in Hildebrand Hall and a renovated Calvin Hall. At the end of that time, we propose, subject to environmental reviews and UC Regents approval, to locate all UCB/LBNL components of the EBI to a new building on the UCB campus. Funding of approximately $120 million has been pledged for this building. The building is proposed to be proximal to the state-of-the-art facilities at LBNL: the Molecular Foundry, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, and the Advanced Light Source. The EBI investigators at UIUC will co-locate on one floor of the new Institute of Genomic Biology building, which has been specifically engineered for integrative research. The core fieldwork from transgenic trials to testing of new biomass-handling machinery will take place on the South Farms, immediately adjacent to the UIUC campus.

Click here to download full proposal.

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