The chosen researchers are said to be experts at turning plants into energy for transportation, buildings and industry.

The funds will establish and support the partnership of three national laboratories and three research universities in Northern California, including UC Davis, to be known as the federal Energy Department’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI).

The JBEI partners are UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Start-up leadership for the project will come from the Berkeley Lab.

“The DOE JBEI will be organized like a biotech startup company, with very focused research objectives, and a structure to enable it to quickly pursue promising scientific and technological developments,” said Keasling Jay Keasling, director of Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of chemical engineering, who will be the chief executive officer for Northern California’s new bioenergy research institute.

“In addition, the DOE JBEI will seek collaborations with companies that have relevant scientific and market capabilities in energy, agribusiness, and biotechnology.”

Of the $125 million, about $5 million will go to UC Davis.

JBEI will feature four interdependent science and technology

divisions: Feedstocks, Deconstruction, Fuels Synthesis, and Cross- cutting Technologies.

Research at the Northern California JBEI will focus on biofuels; UC Davis’ work will be based in the Plant Genomics Program; and the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, deciphering the structure of the plant cell walls being converted to fuels and of the microbes doing the converting.

Two additional national bioenergy research centres were also announced by the Energy Department: the DOE BioEnergy Research Center, led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in close collaboration with Michigan State University.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said: “These centres will provide the transformational science needed for bioenergy breakthroughs to advance President Bush’s goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost- competitive with gasoline by 2012, and assist in reducing America’s gasoline consumption by 20% in 10 years.”

Dana Gornitzki

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