As part of a newly established collaborative, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) will co-lead an effort to establish a bioindustrial manufacturing capability in California’s Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Circular Bioeconomy Innovation Collaborative (CBIO Collaborative), also led by UC Merced and BEAM Circular, was awarded $1 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Regional Innovation Engines program. The program aims to help partners collaborate on economic, societal, and technological opportunities for their regions.

The award will enable CBIO Collaborative to develop actionable and strategic plans to create an innovation campus and ecosystem in the Northern San Joaquin Valley centered on biomanufacturing, which harnesses biology’s natural systems to create sustainable products, materials, and fuels from renewable materials.

“Scaling up biomanufacturing technologies is a crucial part of bringing innovations to market. But there are gaps in the translation of basic discoveries to large-scale applications,” said Deepti Tanjore, director of the Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU) at Berkeley Lab and a project co-investigator. “The Northern San Joaquin Valley has the potential to fill these gaps. Its renewable agricultural residues can serve as feedstocks for biomanufacturing technologies, and its complementary manufacturing capabilities can enable commercial-scale production.”

“Scaling up biomanufacturing technologies is a crucial part of bringing innovations to market.”

– Deepti Tanjore

The planning effort will leverage expertise from ABPDU, a bioprocess scale-up facility with over 10 years of experience in bringing innovative biomanufacturing technologies from the lab to commercial relevance. As part of CBIO Collaborative, researchers at ABPDU will serve as technical advisers and will facilitate connections to its broad network of industry partners.

Northern San Joaquin Valley, which includes San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties, has been historically underserved. The region lacks quality jobs that can sustain families and faces several environmental justice and public health challenges.

But the region’s large-scale food and agricultural activity, manufacturing capacity, and proximity to hubs of biotechnology innovation make it poised to be a leader in bioindustrial manufacturing. Such an ecosystem would provide a needed boost to the region’s economy and the national bioeconomy.

“Having innovation and production close together is crucial, and that proximity is not trivial,” said James Gardner, ABPDU program manager and project co-investigator. “Being able to drive 90 minutes to test out a technology is a game changer.”

In recent years, the biomanufacturing industry has received increased attention. The Biden Administration issued the National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative last year, ushering in new investments in this area.

ABPDU, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, has continued to adapt to meet the changing needs of this industry. Its state-of-the-art facility serves as a test bed for companies to develop their technologies and generate prototype materials. By partnering with ABPDU, small companies that lack significant infrastructure can instead leverage ABPDU’s equipment and experienced staff.

As one of the few publicly-funded scale-up facilities in the country, ABPDU has helped close the nation’s “fermentation capacity gap.” Since its inception in 2011, it has collaborated with over 75 companies, over 50 of which are located in California. Twenty of these California-based companies were directly enabled by ABPDU and have since raised over $1.7 billion in private investments.

These collaborations have successfully brought bio-based products to market – 17 companies enabled by ABPDU have released commercial products. These include skis made with algae oil, cosmetic products, a variety of food products, and more.

The industry’s rapid growth has created an increased demand for an experienced workforce. ABPDU has become a leader in preparing scientists and engineers to work in the bioeconomy. Over 90 staff members have been trained at ABPDU, and many have gone on to pursue careers in biomanufacturing. ABPDU also partnered with UC Berkeley to develop a course that provides hands-on experience with bioprocessing equipment.

“Our partners have been essential in informing our strategy and our next steps in capability development,” Tanjore said. “We make a point to regularly gather feedback from them so we can help them – and the industry as a whole – succeed.”

One of the most important pieces of feedback shared by ABPDU’s industry partners is that they have to go out of state to further develop their products toward large-scale production.

“The Circular Bioeconomy Innovation Collaborative is a tremendous example of California’s leadership in building the green industries of the future,” said Kaina Pereira, Senior Advisor, Business Development in the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “Our agricultural heartland is exactly the place to launch and scale innovative solutions in the bioeconomy that benefit workers, communities, and our food system while advancing the state’s climate priorities. This development award from NSF is fantastic recognition of the North San Joaquin Valley’s role as a global leader in the bioeconomy.”

For the next two years, CBIO Collaborative will prepare a proposal to become a future NSF Engine, which can receive up to $160 million.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 16 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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Worms eye view of an industrial development obscured by blades of grass. A vial containing brightly colored shapes representing molecules sits on a beige surface next to empty blue vials Photograph depicting a panoramic view of laboratory space inside the ABPDU facility, located in Emeryville, CA.