News "EBI Annual Report 2012: An Anniversary, a Time of Change"

Five years after its establishment in 2007, the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) finds itself with an international reputation as one of the leading research centers on the development and use of cellulosic biofuels as a viable energy alternative. With five more years to go in its mandate, the EBI stands poised to achieve the transformative results that will enable the critical delivery of clean, renewable and affordable energy to a growing world.

The mid-point in this unique public-private partnership’s journey is celebrated with the publication of the 2012 EBI Annual Report, a comprehensive summary of the 63 programs and projects that were active during that year – one that also saw the opening of a dramatic new five-story research building in downtown Berkeley.

The partners – energy company BP, which is funding the institute, and academic collaborators the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory – achieved unprecedented productivity in terms of journal publications and public disclosures.

“The foundations laid during the first five years fuel our excitement about the prospects for research during the next five years, and beyond,” the EBI’s three directors write in the Annual Report’s opening statement. “We are doing something here that is an interesting and important model for a new way of doing things in academic research – bringing together expertise in different topics to work on a societal problem. We have reduced barriers to interaction between different disciplines. We have open hallways connecting all the labs, and there is lots of interac­tion. We put groups with different expertise beside each other in the same space. And we have a leadership group that brokers interactions between the different groups.”

The directors point to two research achievements in 2012 that they describe as “game-changing” innovations and illustrative of the interdisciplinary approach that is the hallmark of the institute’s mission. In the first, scientists discovered a modified yeast strain that can simultaneously use 6-carbon and 5-carbon sugars, removing one of the barriers to using a continuous rather than batch process to produce biofuels. And in the second, researchers found a catalyst and a system for condensing the products of bacterial fermentation into diesel-like molecules.

“As with the sugar co-fermenation story,” the directors wrote, “we have parallel work on different subjects that have converged. The EBI has become a useful model of how the intellectual resources of major research universities can be brought to bear on big problems of societal relevance.”

The Annual Report provides status reports on all programs and projects that were active in 2012, including research team rosters, study highlight narratives, and a listing of articles in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, the publication has profiles on a half-dozen of the EBI’s top investigators, a history of the institute, and descriptions of operations, core support, outreach and education programs.

The 2012 EBI Annual Report can be read on the institute’s website (www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org), or a printed copy of the 102-page publication will be mailed to readers at no charge. Just e-mail a request, with mailing address, to sleblovic@berkeley.edu


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