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Energy Biosciences Institute granted patent for biofuels

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JUNE 09, 2013

The Energy Biosciences Institute, a research program that partners with UC Berkeley and is funded by energy company BP, announced on Wednesday the recent awarding of its first intellectual property patent since the institute’s formation in 2007.

The patent, originally granted in April, is entitled “Methods and compositions for improving sugar transport, mixed sugar fermentation, and production of biofuels” and brings researchers closer to developing biofuels from plant cell wall materials. The team of inventors included UC Berkeley faculty members N. Louise Glass and Jamie Cate, University of Illinois faculty, graduate and postgraduate students and BP scientists.

“(The invention) offers a great sense of satisfaction, especially for the students and postdocs, because of its potential for use in a commercial setting,” Glass said. A UC Berkeley professor of plant and microbial biology and one of the inventors listed on the patent, Glass said the research could help in the production of financially viable alternatives to fossil fuels.

The patented research involves the use of components in fungi, such as Neurospora crassa, which improves sugar transport for biofuel production and is a step toward the commercialization of biomass-derived fuels, according to Mitch Altschuler, intellectual property manager of Energy Biosciences Institute.

The research leading to this biotechnology discovery was facilitated by BP’s investment of $500 million to create the Energy Biosciences Institute, which, according to its website, works to develop more sustainable, efficient constructions of biofuels.

Both the University of California and BP are listed as assignees on the official patent. Lynne Hollyer, an associate director at UC Berkeley’s Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances, described the relationship between UC Berkeley and BP with regard to ownership of the newly approved patent.

“BP funded this large project — the Energy Biosciences Institute — but all intellectual property (in relation to the Energy Biosciences Institute) is owned by the university,” Hollyer said. “The patent says that the owner can allow others to use the invention. We allow BP to use it. The university licenses the patent to BP.”

BP’s involvement is not limited to its financial contributions to the Energy Biosciences Institute, as a BP scientist was directly involved in the research conducted by the organization to develop the patent.

“The advantage that BP gives to the effort is that their perspective is what works in the real world … The perspective provided by BP makes this work in an industrial setting, and that is invaluable. BP scientists helped us realize we had nuggets of gold,” Glass said.

EBI officials said at least 50 more patents are pending from institute research, two of which are nearing approval.

Contact Stephanie Petrillo at 

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JUNE 10, 2013