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Bio Centers Announcement at the National Press Club

June 26, 2007 - 2:08pm


Remarks as Prepared for Secretary Bodman

WASHINGTON, DC - Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome.  I want to start by thanking Ray Orbach for introducing me today, for the excellent work his people did overseeing this particular announcement and for the excellence he and his team bring to the pursuit of scientific discovery every day on the country's behalf.

Today we are here to announce which three scientific teams, from among the many that applied, have been selected to create and operate the Department of Energy's three new Bioenergy Research Centers.  The competition was rigorous.  The applications, most of which were partnerships, involved scores of universities, DOE national labs, many private companies and not-for-profit organizations, all of whom stood ready to marshal their formidable talents in the service of a great national purpose, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil.

President Bush has challenged us to do this time and again and it is something we must do for the sake of our national security, our economy, and the global environment.  To meet the goals the President set in his 20 in 10 plan to reduce projected gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017, just 10 years from now, we must surmount the fundamentally scientific challenges the creation of cost-effective biofuels present.  Today's announcement takes us one more step down that road.

Let me say just a few words about the importance of these Centers to America's energy future.  I think they may be the most important thing we do during my time as Secretary of Energy.  Where energy is concerned, we must find ways to do more with less.  
We can develop fundamentally new sources of energy but only by inventing radical new technologies.  Incremental improvements in present-day technologies and methods, while important, cannot take us as far as we need to go.  Edison did not invent the light bulb by first creating the perfect candle.

Bioenergy is among the most promising areas for exploration.  We know how to make ethanol from corn and we produced about 5 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol for fuel last year, but that represented less than 4 percent of annual gasoline consumption and used up one-fifth of America's total corn crop.  Corn ethanol has its virtues and its limits.

For biofuels to put a real dent in our energy consumption, without affecting the food supply and without adding to net carbon dioxide emissions, we need to learn to make biofuels cost-effectively from cellulose.

The investment we are making in these bio-energy centers is high risk, but we expect they will show us the way to overcome the barriers keeping us from developing wide-scale, cost-effective biofuels from cellulose.

Cellulosic ethanol, as this type of biofuel is called, offers a host of advantages, not the least of which is its potential to significantly reduce our U.S. oil consumption.  Second, because it burns more cleanly and it is environmentally responsible.  Third, large-scale production of cellulosic biofuels could usher in a new green economy across the nation, one where family farmers embrace bioenergy feedstocks as a new cash crop.

I believe all that can come to pass, but science must show us the way.

With this in mind I announced in August of 2006 an open competition for the funding to create and operate two integrated, multidisciplinary Bioenergy Research Centers.  The projected funding was $25 million per center per year over five years for a total of $250 million and I was pleased at the enthusiastic response it received from potential applicants.

There was also great enthusiasm within the Administration, so much so that President Bush added one more bioenergy research center to his Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request, upping the total funding to $375 million.  Proposals were due on February 1.  Our federal program managers in our Biological and Environmental Research program in the DOE Office of Science assembled an International Merit Review Panel, consisting of 32 leading scientists and experts from all over the world.

The panel's membership covered all aspects the science, technology, and management involved in the Centers. The proposals were thoroughly analyzed and discussed.  The three that rose to the top are truly extraordinary.

The quality of the scientific teams that they have assembled, the coherence of their management approaches and goals, and the level of outside resources, financial or in-kind, that they have brought to the table are as good as it gets.

The work these biocenters will do as they seek to develop new forms of energy and the ways to make them efficient and commercially viable may change the way we think about biotechnology. If, as we expect, they may produce the kind of scientific breakthroughs Dr. Ray Orbach calls transformational science.

While each of these proposals has a lead institution, they are all partnerships involving multiple institutions.  Altogether in the three proposals, 18 of nation's leading universities, 7 national laboratories, at least 1 nonprofit organization, and a range of private companies are represented.

The three selectees are:

  • The Bioenergy Science Center, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
  • The Joint Bio-Energy Institute, led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

Let me say congratulations to all three teams.  Now, I would like to turn to the representative of each of the teams and ask them to describe their Center's objectives.

Location: Washington, DC

Media contact(s): Megan Barnett, (202) 586-4940