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LBL Win Funding to Build an Advanced Biofuels Process Development Facility

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has been awarded nearly $18 million from the Recovery Act to build an advanced biofuels process development facility. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this new facility will help expedite the commercialization of next generation biofuels by providing industry-scale test beds for innovative technologies. Called the Advanced Biofuels Process Development Unit (PDU), it will be the only facility of its kind available for public use.

“The Advanced Biofuels Process Development Unit will serve the efforts of major biofuels research across the nation, including the Bioenergy Research Centers in the DOE Office of Science,” said Berkeley Lab director Paul Alivisatos. “The establishment by EERE of this facility at Berkeley Lab, a DOE Office of Science national laboratory, reflects a renewed spirit of cooperation between the DOE technology and science programs. Berkeley Lab is proud to play its part.”

The announcement of this grant was made by DOE Assistant Secretary for EERE Cathy Zoi, speaking at the Biomass 2010 conference on March 31, 2010, in Arlington, Virginia. Her agency oversees DOE’s Biomass Program, which has been awarded about $718 million in Recovery Act funds to accelerate the commercialization of advanced biofuels and foster the growth of a sustainable U.S. bioindustry.

“The Department of Energy is committed to developing cost-effective and sustainable advanced biofuels,” Assistant Secretary Zoi said. “With this investment in the Advanced Biofuels PDU, we will vastly increase the capacity to test new innovative approaches on a larger, integrated scale. Scaling up these clean energy technologies is crucial to addressing climate change and building a strong, domestic clean energy economy.”

The Advanced Biofuels PDU is scheduled to be fully operational by early 2011, and multiple possible locations for the facility are now being considered in the San Francisco East Bay region.

Advanced biofuels, as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act, are renewable fuels - other than ethanol derived from corn starch - with at least 50 percent less lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they replace.
Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels PDU will feature pre-treatment of biomass capabilities and bioreactors for the production of microbial or fungal enzymes that can break down biomass into fermentable sugars. The facility will also have substantial capabilities for fermentation or further conversion of sugars into advanced biofuels, along with the capacity to purify these fuels in sufficient quantities for engine testing.

Jay Keasling, the CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), one of three DOE Office of Science Bioenergy Research Centers, says researchers at his institute are looking forward to using the new facility’s resources.

“One of JBEI’s missions is to see that its scientific advances are translated into commercially viable technologies, as the rapid transfer of laboratory discoveries to the marketplace is crucial to solving the nation’s most pressing challenges in energy and the environment,”
Keasling said. “The Advanced Biofuels PDU will be an important contributor to this national effort.”

The new facility will be operated through Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, which oversees $34 million in research programs, including Berkeley Lab’s participation in JBEI as well as major efforts in bioenergy and environmental studies. The Advanced Biofuels PDU will “add a powerful new capability to the division’s portfolio,” according to the division’s acting director Paul Adams.

“Advanced biofuels have the potential to be used as direct replacements for several or all petroleum-derived components in gasoline, diesel and jet fuels,” Adams said. “In order for these advanced biofuels to be widely adopted it is essential that they be available in quantities of tens of liters for laboratory and road engine testing. It will be the mission of the Advanced Biofuels PDU to produce such volumes of fuel.”

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