Department of Energy biomanufacturing summit hosted at California Memorial Stadium

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The Department of Energy, along with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or LBNL, held the Innovation XLab: Biomanufacturing Summit in California Memorial Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Over the course of the two days, about two hundred people involved in biomanufacturing research and industries attended and participated. These conferences — which have been held annually for the last five years — have covered a variety of topics including energy storage, grid modernization, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

“The way that they’re structured is that we pick a science or a technology area that more than one of the national labs are focused on,” said DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “(We) then bring people together on that particular science and innovation topic.”

According to Dabbar, biomanufacturing involves using biology to create materials that could potentially reduce the environmental impact of products in industries such as fabric and dairy, and make some products cheaper and more nutritious.

This year’s summit focused on biomanufacturing because of its relevance to the research conducted in the DOE’s 17 national laboratories, according to Conner Prochaska, chief commercialization officer for the DOE.

LBNL was chosen to host this year’s event because it receives the largest sum of money for biosciences from the DOE, said LBNL Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences Mary Maxon, who helped organize the event. She added that this was a “special kind of conference” because it informed the industry about the research that labs have done.

“It’s important for industry to know that the national labs around the country have assets that are available to industry,” Maxon said. “By helping industry, national labs are contributing to the US bioeconomy … (which) is estimated to be about $959 billion.”

Adding to the discussion about researchers’ relevance in the industry, Prochaska said that the primary reason for hosting Innovation XLab is to help connect people in the industry with researchers and DOE leadership. He added that these connections help to keep the U.S. economy competitive.

Dabbar cited a specific example of such collaboration, stating that Oak Ridge National Laboratory 3D-printed a Shelby Cobra, and, more recently, SpaceX also 3D-printed metal components of their machines.

The summit also included a variety of panels, which discussed the profitability of biomanufacturing, the impact of biomanufacturing and artificial intelligence on sustainable production technologies, as well as biopower, bioproducts and biofuels.

“There are so many new small companies doing innovative things,” Maxon said. “(Similar to that) practice where you take a microbe and you genetically engineer it, you can make egg whites without chickens and milk without cows. Agriculture is very energy intensive, and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. If you can make 20% of what bakeries need for egg whites and you can do so without an egg, you’ve found out a way to make a protein source without land.”

They also held a bioethics talk on the first day, given that biomanufacturing involves self-replicating organisms that are alive.

In addition to Dabbar, Prochaska and Maxon, the conference hosted a few featured speakers.

These speakers included leaders of the industry such as Emily LeProust, CEO of Twist Bioscience, and Magalie Guilhabert, head of microbial research at Bayer Crop Science.

While including industry leaders, Maxon said they also looked for diversity in the speakers they chose.

“Early stage companies talked about how hard it was to get venture capital funding. Larger, more established companies such as Bayer were talking about different challenges when you’re established. They reflect different challenges in the biotech sector,” Maxon said. “Diversity of people is important because … we want to hear from diverse viewpoints. From diverse communities of people comes diversity of thought.”

Megha Krishnan is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_meghakrishnan_.