ISU Partnership Makes BP Project's "Short List"

Iowa State University is part of three-way partnership competing with other schools for important biofuels research lab.

A partnership of the University of California at San Diego, Iowa State University and the J. Craig Venter Institute will compete with other universities to try to land BP's $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute. The announcement was made October 19. The other universities in the competition include three U.S. schools and their partners as well as two universities in the United Kingdom.
In addition to the San Diego and Iowa State partnership, the other schools that have been invited to submit proposals are:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, partnering with Purdue University.
  • University of California at Berkeley.
  • England's Cambridge University.
  • Imperial College in London.

BP, a global energy company that reported $262 billion in sales and operating revenues in 2005, invited the University of California at San Diego to submit a proposal for a biofuels research institute to be located on or adjacent to that campus. The U.C. San Diego school asked ISU and the Venter Institute—a non-profit research institute based in Rockville, Md., and dedicated to the science of genomics—to be partners in the proposed institute.

The institutions' specific roles within the partnership will be determined as their proposal for BP's institute is written. Proposals must be submitted by Nov. 20.

Research to develop, improve biofuels

BP has announced that the institute will be dedicated to developing and improving biofuels, inventing new technologies that convert crops into biofuels and developing plants that produce high yields of biofuels while growing on land that's not suitable for food production.

"BP's Energy Biosciences Institute is being formed to explore research aimed at probing the emerging secrets of bioscience and applying them to the production of new and cleaner energy," says Steven Koonin, BP chief scientist. "While there will be an initial focus on renewable fuels, BP expects the EBI to study a wide range of scientific applications in the energy sector."

BP says it plans to support the institute with $500 million over the next 10 years. BP officials have also said they will announce the location of the institute by the end of this year with the goal of launching research programs in 2007.

Location to be announced soon

"We are honored to be part of a proposal for a research institute dedicated to developing new sources of transportation fuels and cleaner energy from renewable plant materials," says ISU President Gregory Geoffroy. "This is a priority area for research and education at ISU because it is so important for the future economic prosperity of Iowa and our nation."

Geoffroy also says ISU is in a good position to help compete for BP's institute. "Using a combination of state funding, research grants and funding from private foundations, corporations and individuals, Iowa State has rapidly developed into one of the world's leading research and development institutions in the plant sciences, biorenewables and renewable fuels," he says.

The University of California at San Diego's research strengths include the basic sciences, genomics and engineering, including information technology—complementing Iowa State's strengths in agricultural sciences and engineering and the Venter Institute's strengths in microbiology and genomics.

ISU already developing biofuels

ISU researchers are already developing a variety of biofuels technologies, including finding alternative crops for fuel production, examining how existing ethanol plants can evolve into biorefineries, boosting ethanol production by using ultrasonics to release more sugars. ISU is also researching the fermenting of syngas derived from biomass into biobased products.

This research project is using mold to convert corn fiber used for animal feed into ethanol, using chemistry and nanotechnology to improve biodiesel production, and is converting corn stover into a nitrogen-rich char that enriches soil and sequesters carbon.
Robert C. Brown, director of the Office of Biorenewable Programs at ISU, says the partnership's proposal for BP's Energy Institute will feature integrated, multi-disciplinary approaches to development of large-scale bio-energy systems. Brown says the proposal will also focus on fundamental research in plant and microbial sciences.

"The world of energy needs the best minds and efforts to help create the path for the future," says BP's Koonin. "Bioscience has transformed modern medicine, and we believe that bioscience has potential to provide new and exciting energy solutions leading to a more diversified energy supply across the globe."

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