BP boosts biosciences

BP is planning to invest $500 million over the next ten years to establish a dedicated biosciences energy research laboratory with the key aim of developing alternative fuels for road transport.

The facility, the first of its kind in the world, will be attached to a major academic centre in the US or UK. Chief executive Lord Browne said BP had begun discussions with several leading universities to identify which could host the BP Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), with the aim of launching early research programmes by the end of 2007.

Browne said the new institute would focus initially on three key areas of energy bioscience. It will develop new biofuel components and improve the efficiency and flexibility of those currently blended with transport fuels. Newly developed technologies will enhance and accelerate the conversion of organic matter to biofuel molecules, with the aim of increasing the proportion of a crop which can be used to produce feedstock. Modern plant science will be used to develop species that produce a higher yield of energy molecules and can be grown on land not suitable for food production.

Browne said the EBI would be staffed by scientists drawn both from the host university and other academic institutions, along with a small number of specialists from BP.

“The world needs new technologies to maintain adequate supplies of energy for the future,” Browne said. “Bioscience is already transforming modern medicine and we believe it can bring immense benefits to the energy sector.”

“By creating this integrated and dedicated research centre, we plan to harness a technical discipline with enormous potential to provide new energy solutions.”

The EBI will undertake basic research, which it will make freely accessible to the world’s technical communities, as well as proprietary applied projects for commercial bioscience applications.

In the proprietary area, it will support the new biofuels business within BP’s refining and marketing division which has been created to address the increasing requirement that biocomponents be blended into traditional fossil-based transport fuels.

Browne said, “We expect demand for biofuels to rise significantly through the next decade to meet consumer desire for more environmentally responsible products and to satisfy the requirements of governments for more energy to be home-grown.

“It is clear that this demand will outstrip availability without major investment to stimulate the development of new associated technologies that improve cost-effectiveness and broaden the range of biocomponents available globally.

“BP’s biofuels business will bring together all our existing activities in this area and also identify a selection of new demonstration projects to increase our knowledge and expertise which is essential to bring these products to market on a wide scale.”

In addition to its research remit, the EBI will facilitate the cross-training of a new generation of researchers focusing on coupling biotechnology and energy production. It will be a focal point for interactions with leading biotech companies that have a major role in developing and applying energy bioscience.

“While some very good energy bioscience work is already under way, we don’t believe it is adequately integrated into a comprehensive strategic vision for commercial energy production,” Browne said.

“We intend that the EBI will combine a broad science base with BP’s energy knowledge and expertise in the fields of energy processing, distribution, marketing, and regulation, creating the potential for material new offers to meet world demand for lower carbon energy.”

In addition to its focus on advanced biofuels, the Institute will also look at broader applications of bioscience to energy, including improved recovery of oil, coal bed methane and carbon sequestration.