BP partners for $500 million research effort

By | April 06, 2007
Global energy firm BP announced it has chosen the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) to direct a 10-year, $500 million research effort aimed at developing new sources of energy and reducing energy consumption's impact on the environment.

The university will work with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) on the project. The group will form the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) housed in dedicated facilities on each campus, with LBNL performing supporting research. Initially focusing on biofuels and road transport, the EBI is expected to perform groundbreaking research in the area of new and cleaner energy from biofuels. According to Jim Breson, EBI project manager for BP, "the program's short-term work will probably focus on renewable energy in general and biofuels in particular."

BP hopes the EBI will further the basic and applied biological research relevant to energy. According to Bob Malone, chairman and president of BP America, the EBI will have a 10-year mandate to "improve and expand the production of clean, renewable energy through the integrated development of better crops, better processing technologies and new biofuels."

The schools beat out five other proposals, and BP attributed the move to the scientific excellence found at LBNL and its partner schools. Both UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois' campuses will split more than 50 BP employees, who will partner with university faculty and researchers. "The University of California, Berkeley-in strategic partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-offers the highest potential for breakthrough science complemented by the ability to transfer technology effectively to BP," Breson said.

LBNL and UC Berkeley are seen as leaders in research on battery, combustion, renewable energy and nuclear power, among other areas. UC Berkeley asked the University of Illinois to participate in its proposal for its research on corn breeding, and on growing, harvesting and storing crops. "The proposal from UC Berkeley and its partners was selected in large part because these institutions have excellent track records of delivering 'big science'-large and complex developments predicated on both scientific breakthroughs and engineering applications that can be deployed in the real world," Browne said.

BP sees the industry-university partnership as emblematic of future collaboration. California offered an additional $40 million incentive if BP chose the UC Berkeley campus, combined with $30 million for a lab and research facility to be shared by LBNL and UC Berkeley. Although the precise work program hasn't been determined, it should be over the next several months, according to Breson.

In addition to studying biofuels, the EBI will also be tasked with finding new ways to convert fossil fuels to energy, maximizing oil extraction in existing wells, and developing ways to store and sequester carbon that are environmentally sensitive and reduce current risks. Efforts to create better crops and processing technologies, as well as new biofuels, are potential research topics.
Projects for the institute will be chosen by BP in cooperation with researchers, and are still in the planning stages.
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