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DOE Renews Funding for Joint BioEnergy Institute at Berkeley Lab

The Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), was selected as one of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) to receive funding in support of innovative research on biofuels and bioproducts. DOE is awarding the four centers a total of $40 million.

DOE’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), led by Berkeley Lab, is located in Emeryville, Calif. (Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab)

The BRC awards, announced today by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, mark the next research phase at JBEI, established in 2007 by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within DOE’s Office of Science. JBEI and the new centers will expand their focus on breakthrough science in carbon-neutral biofuels to include more research into the development of innovative bioproducts and bio-based chemicals.

“The revolution in modern biology has opened up vast new opportunities in industry and energy for products and fuels derived from biomass as a sustainable resource,” said Perry. “These centers will accelerate the development of the basic science and technological foundation needed to ensure that American industry and the American public reap the promised benefits of the new bio-based economy.”

JBEI partners include Sandia National Laboratories; the University of California (UC) campuses at Berkeley, Davis, San Diego, and Santa Barbara; the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Clemson University; Iowa State University; and TeselaGen Biotechnology Inc.

JBEI was among three BRCs established by DOE a decade ago to accelerate fundamental research in advanced, next-generation biofuels, and to make such technology cost-effective and widely available. The other two centers were the BioEnergy Science Center, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University.

Since its founding, JBEI research has yielded 672 peer-reviewed publications, 85 licenses, 23 patents, and five startups. In that time, JBEI has contributed many scientific achievements, including:

  • Engineering bioenergy crops to increase sugar-containing polymers and decrease lignin in plant cell walls
  • Developing an affordable and scalable ionic liquid pretreatment technology
  • Developing microbial routes for the conversion of biomass-derived sugars into advanced, “drop-in” blendstocks for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels

“JBEI has established a strong track record of producing technologies that make biofuels research easier and that help transform the U.S. bioeconomy,” said Jay Keasling, JBEI’s chief executive officer. “We are very excited to receive this award for continued funding. This third phase of funding will allow JBEI to expand its basic research mission to biomanufacturing of both biofuels and bioproducts from biomass. Ultimately, JBEI’s research will make biofuels affordable and create new renewable bioproducts for consumers and jobs in the agriculture and biotechnology sectors.”

Jay Keasling, CEO of Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) (Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab)

Besides JBEI, the four centers selected today include the Center for Bioenergy Innovation led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory; the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University; and the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The four BRCs, chosen through a rigorous nationwide competition, will receive the initial $40 million funding for fiscal year 2018, with plans to continue funding for an additional four years.

Keasling, who holds joint appointments at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, pointed to potential benefits of JBEI research that go beyond decreasing the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and reducing its carbon footprint on the environment. When fully scaled, JBEI technology promises to reduce the susceptibility of bioenergy crops to disease and drought, and to produce a variety of bioproducts at industrial scales.

JBEI has actively promoted an interest in science careers through student internships, and will remain committed to developing a skilled workforce that can meet the challenges of the new bio-based economy.

For example, JBEI has partnered with UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS), considered the only science center in the country that is part of a top-tier, public research university. JBEI and LHS are developing and delivering a recurring biofuel and bioproduct workshop, and lesson plans that will be integrated into LHS curriculum, which reaches 20 percent of the nation’s K-12 students.

“We look forward to entering this next phase of JBEI,” Keasling said. “We have a great team and I look forward to developing bio-based resources that will have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.”

JBEI receives additional support from the California Energy Commission, TeselaGen Biotechnology Inc., and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit www.lbl.gov.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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