News Energy Bioscience Research Update in 2010 EBI Annual Report

The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), the world’s most comprehensive center for research on bioenergy and cellulosic biofuels, completed its third year of work in 2010. This noteworthy period of experimentation and analysis is captured in image and word in the recently published EBI Annual Report 2010.

The 82-page volume, which includes brief progress reports of all 68 EBI programs and projects active during the year, is available at no cost to those requesting mailed copies at sleblovic@berkeley.edu. It can also be viewed online at the EBI’s web site – www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org.

Copies can also be acquired at any of the three public EBI partner institutions – the University of California, Berkeley (130 Calvin Laboratory); the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (EBI offices at the Institute for Genomic Biology), and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Public Affairs – Building 65). The 10-year research collaboration is funded by the international energy company BP.

The institute’s directorate – Chris Somerville, Steve Long and Paul Willems – marked the 2010 milestone in the report’s introductory message:

“The EBI’s initial three years have been filled with a hopeful energy, tireless dedication of researchers and support staff, and productive first steps on our journey. We are privileged to lead the EBI forward…Many brilliant and engaged people who had not previously worked on topics related to energy biosciences are now testing their ideas, and we expect an outpouring of innovation and creativity.”

The Directors point to one program in particular that illustrated the successful collaboration structure that is a hallmark of the EBI. A series of published papers reported a multidisciplinary team’s development of new yeast strains that can simultaneously utilize all the major sugars that comprise lignocellulose.

“Aside from the importance of the scientific advance,” they write, “we consider this body of work to be an outstanding example of what we had hoped to accomplish in the EBI – based initially on a curiosity-driven discovery that is typical of the best university research, and involving a multidisciplinary collaboration supported by a very high degree of collegiality among many labs at different institutions. It capitalized on inherent scientific capabilities in the institute, and it benefited directly from the involvement of BP scientists.”

EBI research is focusing on feedstock development, biomass deconstruction, biofuels production, fossil fuel microbiology, environmental services, and the economic and societal impacts of biofuels. The institute’s present goal is to probe all aspects of lignocellulosic fuels in order to build a coherent understanding of the overall topic. In deep earth ecology, the goal is to understand the properties of oil reservoirs and their microbes in order to evaluate the potential to enhance fossil fuel recovery, processing, transport and storage.

Since the EBI’s inception in late 2007, more than 750 researchers have contributed work to the enterprise, more than 120 papers have been published in scientific journals, and nearly 80 programs and projects have been launched. The Annual Report describes the facilities, support services, and operational procedures that facilitate the work of the institute.

One feature of the report is an overview of current trends in commercial biofuel production, by EBI Bioenergy Analysts Caroline Taylor and Heather Youngs. Among the subjects they review are target fuels beyond ethanol, feedstock options, and social and environmental issues in biofuel development.

“We still have a long road ahead to wide-scale commercial implementation,” the analysts conclude, “but progress has spanned the value chain from feedstock production through conversion technology and extending into environmental impact and policy considerations.” They note that integration of research across varied disciplines will be critical to developing a commercial-scale industry.

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Contact: Ron Kolb


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