Energy Biosciences Institute
The Energy Biosciences Institute is a partnership of three world-class public research institutions and a corporate sponsor. Starting in 2007, the EBI embarked on a 10-year, $500 million quest to help the world transition from a carbon-based fuel strategy to one that incorporates sustainable, environmentally friendly fuels into a balanced portfolio of responsible, renewable energy sources.
The consortium -- the University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the energy company BP - is dedicated to developing an integrated holistic understanding of the research topics related to the energy biosciences. Topics of interest such as cellulosic biofuels are unusually complex and involve research questions in subjects that include agronomy, microbiology, mechanical and chemical engineering, biochemistry, chemistry, geography, economics, law and policy analysis.
The EBI supports about 60 research groups involving about 120 faculty and about 200 graduate students and postdocs. Research topics largely focus on understanding the issues associated with the proposed development of a cellulosic biofuels industry. One group is exploring the microbial ecology of fossil fuel reservoirs.
An Institute of Collaborations
Because advances in one area may have important impacts in other areas, the EBI maintains dynamic intellectual bridges between the various disciplines so that information and insights flow efficiently, and new research initiatives are adopted based on a "big picture" view of the overall topic. Researchers occupy common space on each campus -- at Berkeley, in the new Energy Biosciences Building on Berkeley Way -- thus facilitating horizontal integration of disciplines.
This multidisciplinary approach facilitates discovery and ultimately enables optimal decision-making by the sectors in society that are responsible for implementing trade and regulatory policies and business activities. In this respect, the close association within the EBI of academics from the partner institutions and also from industrial managers, engineers and scientists from BP offers a rare opportunity to accelerate the feed-forward and feedback processes that are associated with conversion of academic discovery into real-world applications.
Public and Private
Openness of the research enterprise -- and the academic freedom of its faculty, graduate students, and university researchers - is paramount for the three public institutions in the EBI. Inventions made during the course of research within the EBI are owned by the academic institutions according to U.S. patent law, and BP receives an automatic non-exclusive license in return for funding the research. All four partners have representation in the EBI's governing board of directors, with none having a majority or veto power, encouraging consensus in all decisions. The Executive Committee, which provides scientific direction and operational oversight, is mostly composed of professors from the academic partners.
Areas of Study
The development of cellulosic fuels involves identifying the most suitable species of plants for use as energy crops; improving methods of breeding, propagation, planting, harvesting, storage and processing; and ensuring that this is done in a sustainable way without negative impacts on food production or the environment. Production of biofuels also involves the development of biomass-to-liquid fuels technologies that yield major benefits in regard to both net energy output and net greenhouse gas balance based on consideration of all inputs.
Research is divided into several areas of inquiry - feedstock development, depolymerization of biomass, biofuels production, microbiology in fossil fuel reserves, and the social, environmental and economic impacts of biofuel development.
Competitive peer-reviewed proposals are selected in two categories - programs, which are typically large integrated multi-investigator efforts with broad goals, and projects, with smaller activities of shorter duration and with a more narrow scope. Proposal solicitations are conducted at least once each year and are targeted to needs specific to the EBI mission.