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HOUSTON -- BP PLC's commitment to cellulosic biofuels research includes a 10-year, $350 million 'mega-grant,' a portion of which was recently allocated to The Energy Biosciences Institute -- a collaboration of the University of California, Berkeley; the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) was awarded a total of $19.27 million to focus on 50 projects and programs focusing on cellulosic ethanol. CSNews Online could not reach BP for comment; however, BioMass magazine reported that another $15.73 million in grants will be announced this summer.
Chris Somerville EBI director told the magazine that research efforts will include a comprehensive analysis of cellulosic ethanol. To this end, projects will cover a wide range of research, starting with existing programs and extending to new initiatives, globally. "EBI is academic," Somerville told BioMass. "We're not doing anything that is near-market."
Investigation into land ownership issues and life cycle analyses are among proposed research topics. Somerville told the magazine that the feedstock development work will include test plots around the world, starting with Miscanthus and switchgrass as models, but also include other feedstocks as well as the equipment needed to plant, harvest and store those feedstocks. Known as "Metagenomic studies," the researchers' primary focus will be determining how nature breaks down cellulose.
In other news, BP America announced a $750,000 grant to the University of Houston that will provide scholarships to students in engineering, sciences, mathematics and business.
Over the next three years, the BP Scholarship/Fellowship Spread will be distributed to the Cullen College of Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the C.T. Bauer College of Business. The scholarship will fund a variety of programs as well as be used as a recruiting tool.
"We have a social responsibility to continue to find better ways to develop safe, clean and sustainable energy for the future," Gabriel Cuadra, business unit leader for Latin America Fuels, BP's University of Houston campus executive and a 1988 alum, said in a released statement. "In order to do that, we must continue to attract and recruit the best and the brightest young people who will help develop the technologies that will unlock previously unattainable hydrocarbon resources and help us deliver alternative energy solutions."
Cuadra explained that the Cullen College of Engineering will receive $170,000 each year, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics will receive $55,000 each year and the C.T. Bauer College of Business will receive $25,000 each year. Additional programs include one-week summer camps to promote engineering to high school seniors, scholarships to attract National Merit Scholarship finalists and a program designed to attract high school students and business students interested in the energy sector.
"BP is making a significant investment in university programs aimed at developing the regional workforce through the recruitment and retention of excellent students," Donald Foss, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost for the University of Houston, said in a released statement. "This gift reflects the quality of the energy-related programs at University of Houston and we are grateful to BP for their continued support of these efforts."