News Energy Biosciences Institute Research Portfolio Now at 68 Awards

BERKELEY, CA -- Nine programs and projects were added to the portfolio of research comprising the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) in 2009 and another eight were funded in 2010, bringing the total number of investigations funded as of the third year of EBI operations to 68.

Research is being pursued in five categories related to applying bioscience and biotechnology techniques to the energy industry, in particular exploring the opportunities for production of cellulosic biofuels. The most recent additions include investigations into feedstock development, biomass depolymerization, biofuels production, enhanced hydrocarbon recovery, and the socioeconomic impacts of cellulosic biofuels development.

The projects are being supported at all three of the public partner institutions – the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The international energy company BP is funding the 10-year collaboration with $500 million.

Awards are divided into two categories: programs and projects. Programs are typically large integrated multi-investigator efforts with broad goals, funded at anywhere from about $400,000 to about $1 million per year, and may continue for the 10-year life of the institute. Projects are smaller activities of two to three years in duration that are usually narrower in scope. These average about $150,000 per year. Some projects have ended or will be completed in 2010.

The additional 2009 awards included two programs and seven projects, and the 2010 awards are all projects. They range from micro-studies of one-celled organisms to global modeling techniques. And they all relate to the EBI’s mission -- by applying bioscience and biotechnology techniques to the energy industry, the EBI is seeking to develop the methods and technologies that will enable the transition from a fossil fuel-based energy economy to a balanced portfolio relying more upon renewables and cellulosic or algal biofuels with greatly reduced environmental impacts. It is the world’s largest public/private consortium
dedicated to the application of biosciences to the energy sector.

Added to the original 51 programs and projects in 2009 were these:

Mechanism of Plant Cell Wall Modification

Headed by EBI Director Chris Somerville at Berkeley, this program explores mechanisms used by plants to modify the properties of cell walls during various aspects of growth and development. The team hopes to gain insights into possible ways of reducing cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis during bioconversion of plant biomass to fuels.

Distribution & Diversity of Metabolic Processes in Subsurface Microbial Communities Integrated with Reservoir Environmental Conditions and Geological History: A Universal Template for MEHR

The goal of this program is to determine the distribution, frequency and expression of genes in subsurface microbial communities in order to infer the unique metabolic processes inherent to this environment. Illinois Professor Bruce Fouke leads this effort as part of the EBI’s investigation of Microbially Enhanced Hydrocarbon Recovery (MEHR), in which reservoir microbes might be manipulated to optimize fuel recovery in an environmentally responsible way.

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Contact: Ron Kolb


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