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Energy Biosciences Institute: Frequently asked questions

Q. How was the EBI contract developed and what was the timeline?

A. In response to a call for proposals, UC Berkeley submitted to BP on Nov. 24, 2006, a 90-page proposal for an Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) focused on finding more efficient and sustainable ways to produce biofuels for transportation. Once the selection of UC Berkeley's proposal by BP over those of competitors was announced on Feb. 1, 2007, the proposal became the basis for formal contract negotiations among the EBI partner institutions – UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and BP. These negotiations began the last week of June and concluded in mid-October. The number of partner institutions involved added to the complexity of negotiation since U.S. Department of Energy policies and differences between California and Illinois laws had to be addressed. Details of governance and management of the EBI and specific aspects of intellectual property (IP) management had to be agreed upon and captured in contract language acceptable to the three academic institutions, the UC Office of the President, and BP.

Q. In what areas does the final contract significantly differ from the proposal?

A. The final contract fleshes out in detail the outlines of governance and IP management and memorializes the details laid out in the original proposal. The proposal was not intended to be, and could not have been, written at the level of detail that is required to establish and run a large-scale, decade-long research program. Much has been added to clarify EBI governance, oversight, roles and responsibilities, dispute resolution, use of names and trademarks, termination, indemnification, reporting and the like. Much greater detail concerning IP ownership rights, IP license terms, and background IP rights is present in the contract than was feasible in the proposal, as these details had to be discussed and agreed upon by all participating parties.

Q. How are research projects being proposed and selected?

A. Procedures for allocating funding for EBI research projects have been designed to create a nimble research enterprise that will empower faculty researchers to follow promising emerging research directions and take advantage of breakthroughs and unforeseen opportunities. The EBI will allocate financial support to faculty investigators at the three host institutions through a competitive peer-reviewed process each year.

EBI research directions and program areas were broadly identified in the proposal and have been further refined by the EBI Executive Committee. Faculty investigators at UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and UIUC were invited on May 1, 2007, to submit a short preproposal to be reviewed by the EBI scientific review board (composed of the EBI Executive Committee augmented by subject matter experts) for relevance to the EBI's research mission. Of 250 preproposals, 75 researchers were invited in early July by the EBI scientific review board to submit full proposals because their proposed projects or programs were considered to be consistent with the goals of the EBI.

These proposals were reviewed for technical merit by external colleagues with expertise in the relevant research areas. Proposals that were reviewed favorably are being considered for funding by the EBI Executive Committee, which will then communicate the resulting annual research plan and annual budget to the Governing Board for final authorization of funding for the proposed slate of projects.

Preproposals were evaluated on their relevance to the following areas of emphasis: 1) biofuel feedstocks, including feedstock production, feedstock genetics, biomass composition, biotic stress, environmental impact and sustainability, harvesting, transport and storage; 2) socioeconomic issues associated with biofuels or sequestration, including global socioeconomic impacts, next-generation assessment, biofuels evaluation and adoption, biofuels markets and networks, social interactions and risks; 3) depolymerization of biomass, including pretreatment technologies, enzyme discovery and evolution, integrated bioprocessing and industrial adaptation, and development of novel catalysts; 4) biofuel production, including systems biology, pathway engineering and biofuel production systems; 5) fossil fuel bioprocessing; and 6) microbially-enhanced oil recovery.

Once the slate of research projects is selected by the Executive Committee, an annual budget request containing this slate plus other operating expenses of the institute for the first year of operation will be submitted to the Governance Board for approval. The Governance Board will approve or reject the full slate of programs and projects in its entirety; it will not have the authority to reject individual research projects or programs. In this respect, BP will have much less control over the ultimate selection of research projects than would the typical industry sponsor. Typically, an industry sponsor has full authority to reject or approve all details of a proposed research project, along with its corresponding budget, before entering into a contract to fund it.

Q. When will the first slate of research projects be announced?

A. It is anticipated that the new EBI programs and projects will be announced by the end of November 2007.

Q. What is the difference between an EBI "program" and an EBI "project"?

A. An award at the program level will provide principal investigators with research space in EBI research buildings for an initial period of 3-5 years with funds available to support up to about eight research personnel, supplies and necessary equipment.

Proposals submitted at the project level will cover a research period of 1-3 years with funding to support 1-3 research personnel, supplies and minor equipment.

Q. How does the research performed in the open component of the EBI differ from that undertaken in the proprietary component?

A. The proprietary component will be staffed by BP employees, its consultants and agents and will conduct private, confidential and proprietary research, the product of which will be the sole property of BP. Proprietary labs will be situated adjacent to open academic labs to allow a dialogue between researchers and BP personnel that will help produce research that advances the EBI mission, which is to find a strategy for developing biofuels that are economically feasible and beneficial to society. Proprietary labs, however, will be physically separate with controlled access. Research in UC Berkeley, UIUC or Berkeley Lab space and research conducted by personnel of these academic partners will be subject to the respective institutions' normal academic policies and practices.

Q. How will the $500 million in research funding be divided among the EBI partner institutions?

A. The EBI will be funded by approximately $50 million per year for 10 years from BP. Of the $50 million per year EBI budget, approximately $35 million will fund open academic research and about $15 million will fund proprietary research.

Q. How is the EBI governed?

A. The open component of the EBI will be guided by a director, who must be a member of the UC Berkeley faculty. The director will chair an EBI Executive Committee that includes the deputy director from UIUC, the associate director from BP, six or seven EBI science program directors from either UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab or UIUC, plus one representative appointed by BP. The director and Executive Committee will be responsible for steering and implementing the open research program within the EBI, making and managing an annual call for research proposals, proposing to the Governance Board a slate of research projects to be funded (or renewed) each year, submitting a yearly budget for the open component, and establishing goals and milestones. A two-thirds vote of the committee will be required for approval of annual project plans and budget. Research in the proprietary component of the EBI will be entirely controlled by BP.

The Executive Committee will be supervised by an eight-member EBI Governance Board comprised of four representatives appointed by UC Berkeley, including two from UC Berkeley and one each from Berkeley Lab and UIUC, and four representatives from BP. The Governance Board will be responsible for overseeing the management of the open component of the EBI and will have no authority over the proprietary component. Its responsibilities will include approving the overall research plan and budget by means of a majority, affirmative vote on the entire slate of research projects, and overseeing the EBI director and deputy director. Governance Board decisions will require a quorum of five members and a majority of five votes. UC Berkeley's chancellor and BP's executive vice president of group technology will attempt to resolve any deadlocks within the Governance Board, but if unsuccessful, the disputed action will be considered to be rejected.

Q. Why does the EBI Governance Board include four members appointed by UC Berkeley and four appointed by BP? Why isn't there a UC Berkeley-appointed majority?

A. Any action of the eight-member Governance Board will be by majority vote, requiring the affirmative vote of at least five regular members of the board when a quorum is present. At least five board members must be present to constitute a quorum, including at least one member from UC Berkeley. Thus, each side will have veto power over the other and collaborative decision making will be encouraged. As an extreme example, if four BP representatives and one UC Berkeley representative constitute the quorum at a meeting, all five must vote affirmatively before an action can be approved. In this example, if the four BP representatives voted one way, the sole UC Berkeley member could exercise veto power by voting differently. (Clarified on 12/5/07)

Q. How will students benefit from the EBI?

A. The goal of a graduate education program is to prepare students for careers in academia, industry, government or non-government organizations. Key graduate education components expected to be developed under the EBI by EBI-affiliated faculty include:

  • New graduate courses on current state-of-the-art issues, especially in evolving fields
  • Shared courses and seminars across participating academic institutions using technology such as webcasting
  • Opportunities for graduate students to rotate among laboratories across the disciplines and across traditional department or college barriers
  • Opportunities for graduate students to declare a designated emphasis (UC Berkeley) or a certificate in energy science and technology (UIUC) in addition to the primary discipline in which they will receive their Ph.Ds.
  • Seminar series in various areas related to the EBI mission
  • Laboratory rotations across UCB, UIUC, and Berkeley Lab
  • Programs to support student entrepreneurial interests in bioenergy
  • Access to an intellectual community that will stimulate multidisciplinary interactions
  • Support for student-run organizations such as the Berkeley Energy Resources Collaborative and the Center for Energy Innovation

The EBI-affiliated faculty will develop new courses and research opportunities to stimulate undergraduates at UC Berkeley and UIUC to focus on global energy challenges. The faculty will provide them with a myriad of career-building opportunities. To prepare undergraduates for a career in industry or a graduate program, the EBI can enrich the undergraduate experience by sponsoring activities that will provide students with opportunities to talk with leading industry researchers from within and outside of the EBI including:

  • Undergraduate energy-based student interest groups at UC Berkeley and UIUC
  • Practical and field-training internships and practice at bioenergy plants, businesses, farms and feedstock production facilities
  • Technology to facilitate off-site high school and undergraduate research projects
  • Undergraduate research opportunities in EBI laboratories
  • Undergraduate internships with BP labs worldwide

UC Berkeley-Specific Questions

Q. How does having the EBI on campus benefit UC Berkeley?

A. Alternative energy has already been identified as a major research commitment of the UC Berkeley campus. The EBI funding greatly enhances the opportunity for UC Berkeley faculty and students to pursue groundbreaking research in this arena.

UC Berkeley will also benefit from the fact that EBI funding helps provide for the creation of a permanent, new research facility for the campus. In addition to providing state-of-the art laboratory and office space, the fact that researchers affiliated with the programs are moving into this new space will make the campus lab space they formerly occupied available to other researchers. This will help the campus address some of the significant long-term laboratory-space challenges it faces.

Additionally, the EBI will fund 50 percent of the academic salaries for six new full time-equivalent (FTE) faculty and 100 percent of the EBI director's academic salary at UC Berkeley. The EBI is also providing $1 million in start-up funds and $500,000 in renovation costs to support each of these seven positions.

Q. How are the mission and values of public universities like UC Berkeley and UIUC protected in the contract with BP?

A. The Master Agreement specifically states that: "The collaboration among the Research Collaborators and BP will be conducted in accordance with the terms of the Research Agreement, and will preserve the academic mission and academic principles of Open Research in the Open Component." (Section 1.4)

Additionally, UC Berkeley has extensive policies governing university-industry relations, available for review online. Eight core principles are set forth in these policies to safeguard academic values and to address rights to future research results in contracts with external parties.

These principles protect the education, research and public service mission of the university, while meeting the government's mandate under the Bayh-Dole Act to speed the application of basic research to the benefit of society. These principles have served UC Berkeley well through a long and productive history of collaboration with industry, most notably with the information technology and biotechnology industries, contributing enormously to the local, state and national economies.

All results of research conducted in the open component of the EBI are expected to be published, just as other sponsored research is expected to be published. If BP licenses IP emerging from the open component of the EBI, BP will be obligated to pursue commercialization with due diligence, just like any other industry licensee of UC Berkeley IP. Diligence obligations include periodic reporting requirements on technology development, commercial assessment and milestones. Assessment includes economic feasibility, technical feasibility and applicable supporting technology, infrastructure and regulatory approvals.

Q. What contract provisions ensure the academic freedom of faculty and graduate students and protect their intellectual independence?

A. The research in the open component is academic in nature and will be published. BP, however, will have the right to review research results before publication to assess whether it wants to suggest that UC Berkeley patent intellectual property described in the publication that BP would like to license, and to ensure that no proprietary information is inadvertently revealed. This "prepublication review" is standard practice for all industry sponsored research. University research will not be performed in the proprietary component of the EBI.

The UC Berkeley campus and the UC Office of the President have extensive policies in place to ensure the openness of the research enterprise and the freedom of UC faculty, post-graduates and students to publish their research results without restriction:

All industry research grants and contracts are reviewed by the Industry Alliances Office (IAO) of UC Berkeley's Office of Intellectual Property and Industry Research Alliances (IPIRA) to ensure that they conform to the requirement that they do not carry restrictions on the freedom to publicly disseminate research results. The IAO has responsibility for identifying restrictive clauses suggested by external sponsors. If the external sponsor resists removal of restrictive clauses, the IAO, backed by the UC Berkeley vice chancellor for research, refuse to accept the grant or contract under consideration. (In the past, this has been necessary on occasion, not only with industry but also with federal- and foundation-sponsored research). Industry grants and contracts are also reviewed to ensure that their scope of work is not simply product development or product testing, a type of "work for hire" not permitted by the UC system under a research grant or contract.

The following principles (among those listed at the link above) guide university openness and academic freedom:

  • Researchers (principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows and students) decide for themselves whether or not they will participate in a given sponsored research project, regardless of the funding source.
  • When UC Berkeley researchers choose to seek research funding from a company under a sponsored research agreement, they draft a proposed work plan describing research that is academically appropriate for university researchers to perform, the results of which will be published.
  • Publication at the university is a fundamental right. In the typical corporate-sponsored research agreement, sponsors receive the right to review publications (and public presentations) before they are disseminated, but are not given editorial rights.

In the end, the most robust enforcer of academic freedom is the respect of UC Berkeley faculty for the academic tradition itself.

Q. What is the precedent for industry-funded research on campus?

A. The University of California and UC Berkeley actively encourage collaborative and sponsored research with industry that is consistent with the educational mission and the principles of academic freedom. These partnerships give faculty and students new ideas, increase the commercial impact of university research, and prepare students for non-academic careers. In the last two years, UC Berkeley has entered into 198 new sponsored-research and collaboration agreements and 85 new affiliate-program contracts to support research by private industry on the UC Berkeley campus. The university has a number of master agreements with companies that streamline the manner in which it contracts for sponsored research, or obtains vital materials or other research tools to support campus research.

Selected examples of products invented at UC Berkeley under corporate-sponsored research agreements include: DNA sequencing reagents and DNA sequencers (sponsored by Molecular Dynamics and subsequently commercialized through Amersham and GE due to acquisition), drug development tools by KineMed, and an algorithm for scheduling information flow through network switches in Internet routers commercialized by Pacific Bell, Bellcore and a microelectronics consortium.

Q. How many new faculty will be hired as stipulated by the EBI contract, and what is the process for doing so?

A. The normal UC Berkeley practices for hiring are being followed. According to the Master Agreement, "Berkeley shall have sole power and authority with respect to all Berkeley faculty decisions regarding Berkeley employees participating in the EBI in its sole and absolute discretion."

The UC Berkeley campus will hire seven new full time-equivalent (FTE) faculty members for the EBI. Procedures for these hires are detailed in a memorandum of understanding between the administration and the Faculty Senate Budget Committee that has been approved unanimously by the Senate's divisional council. These positions are not permanent augmentations of the existing UC Berkeley faculty headcount; rather, they would count against units' target sizes within the next one to two separations. All of these faculty positions will be filled through the normal review-and-appointment process for the campus. The research areas for these FTE must fit into the long range plans of the departments that propose to assume responsibility for seeking to fill them.

Q. Will BP use the university's name and reputation to enhance its image in ads and public relations efforts?

A. Neither party will be able to use a name or trademark of the other party in any advertisement or publicity unless it has the written consent of the other. Either party may also withdraw previously granted consent.

Q. How was the Academic Senate involved in the contract negotiations, and what sort of ongoing oversight will it provide?

A. The chair of the Academic Senate and four senate representatives met in April 2007 and compiled a list of eight recommendations that they thought should guide the contract negotiations between UC Berkeley and BP. The vice chancellor for research periodically met with the five-member group throughout the negotiations, and asked them for comment on some of the contract language. To the extent possible, the group’s comments and suggested language changes informed the negotiations.

Throughout the lifetime of the EBI contract, a member of the EBI Executive Committee will provide annual updates to the Academic Senate on developments in the institute.

Q. How will the Helios building be funded?

A. The Helios building, to be constructed on hill-area campus property, will house research on alternative energy and include the EBI. The total cost of the Helios building is estimated at $159 million. Of this, $70 million will come from state lease revenue bonds, $74 million from external financing in the form of UC bonds, and $15 million from private support. The bonds will be repaid partly by overhead from the BP grant, which amounts to one-third of all funds coming to UC Berkeley, and partly by money paid by BP to rent proprietary space in the Helios building.

Q. What are the major upcoming milestones for EBI?

A. The EBI Executive Committee is concluding the process of meeting with researchers whose proposals are being accepted for funding to discuss details of each research program or project, its budget and its milestones. Meanwhile, renovation of the Calvin Laboratory and parts of Hildebrand Hall are being completed so that EBI researchers can move into temporary labs. Planning continues for the Helios building, which will house EBI as well as other alternative energy research.

Q. To what degree were students involved in the negotiation process?

A. During the contract negotiations, the Vice Chancellor for Research met on several occasions with graduate student representatives of the Graduate Assembly and undergraduates from the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). The students were briefed on key considerations in the contract, and their feedback was solicited. Their comments and concerns were taken into account by the university negotiators and constructively influenced the negotiations.