New Energy Biosciences Building, Birgeneau Energy Garden dedicated

Energy Biosciences Building at UC Berkeley.

The new Energy Biosciences Building at 2151 Berkeley Way was designed by San Francisco architects Smith Group JJR, built by general contractor Rudolf & Sletten and managed by UC Berkeley Capital Projects.

State legislators and city officials joined nearly 100 UC Berkeley researchers and administrators yesterday (Monday, Dec. 10) to dedicate the new Energy Biosciences Building and celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership between the campus, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the energy company BP.

EBI Director Chris Somerville took the opportunity to dedicate a small garden on the south side of the building as the Robert J. and Mary Catherine Birgeneau Energy Garden, which will showcase potential biofuel feedstocks — miscanthus, switchgrass, prairie cordgrass, sugarcane, energy cane, agave and poplar are planned — in honor of Chancellor Birgeneau’s firm support of EBI and science research and education in general.

This honor is for “planting so many seeds for research, teaching and public service efforts on the campus,” said Graham Fleming, vice chancellor for research. “We hope that this spot will be a place for experimentation and reflection and for understanding nature’s role in addressing the world’s energy and climate challenges.”

California State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), a UC Berkeley alumna who supported EBI and the EBB from the beginning, praised the institute’s goals of reducing the use of fossil fuels to address climate change.

“We’re proud to be part of something trying to advance the science and put the planet and our future in a better place,” she said.

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi and state Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) both issued commendations, the latter thanking EBI for “moving us toward a 21st century clean-energy future.”

While Somerville reviewed EBI’s accomplishments over the past five years (see accompanying article), EBI Associate Director Paul Willems, technology vice president at BP, ascribed these accomplishments to EBI’s “open-endedness and unprecedented scale”: $350 million over 10 years for academic research alone.

Chancellor Birgeneau and his wife plant miscanthus.

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau and his wife, Mary Catherine, plant miscanthus, a potential energy crop, in the energy garden newly named after the couple. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

“We feel EBI represents a great experiment for all involved,” Willems said. “We have developed a reputation as one of the best bioenergy institutions in the world.”

Harking back to 2006, when BP first asked UC Berkeley and four other universities around the world to propose a research agenda for an institute to apply modern biology to the production of biofuels, Birgeneau described it as the “beginning a remarkable scientific journey with a unique private-public partnership model. I look forward to the next five years of innovation and discovery enabled and enhanced by the state-of-the-art features of the Energy Biosciences Building.”