UC Berkeley and BP Ink $500 Million Deal

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Correction Appended

Clarification Appended

Nine months after announcing a $500 deal with energy giant BP, UC Berkeley officially sealed its partnership yesterday in the largest deal the campus has ever entered into with a private corporation.

The 10-year contract was finalized yesterday in Texas, with the signature of Robert Malone, president of BP America, after UC officials gave their stamp of approval days prior.

BP will provide half a billion dollars for UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to conduct research at the new Energy Biosciences Institute, with the aim of addressing global energy challenges.

$350 million will fund the “open component” of the research, and the rest will go to about 50 BP scientists for proprietary, or secret, research at the institute, the contract states.

The Governance Board overseeing the institute will have eight voting members. In the original proposal, the majority were academic figures. Now, BP will hold four spots, and UC Berkeley will appoint members from the academic institutions for the other four.

The governance board can approve or reject all the proposals, but the institute’s executive committee has more authority to set the overall agenda, said campus spokesperson Robert Sanders.

Researchers will work on developing plants for creating biofuels, converting them into fuel, and economic and social impacts of biofuel production.

“There is a long history of Berkeley researchers making great contributions to society and we hope this will be one of them,” he said.

Researchers will work in Hildebrand and Calvin halls before moving into the future Energy Biosciences Institute, slated to be completed by 2010 on a site between the campus and the lab.

Nearly 200 scientists have gotten nods to start 40 projects in total, said Stephen Long, the institute’s deputy director.

BP will begin providing funding once specific project details are finalized by early December, Sanders said.

“This is BP’s chance to put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “$500 million is a big commitment.”

The deal has drawn criticism from abroad and from campus affiliates and community members who said BP’s presence could taint academic freedom.

Members of the student-driven coalition Stop BP-Berkeley said they will continue to protest the deal.

“Just because a bunch of lawyers got done signing signatures doesn’t mean we’re going to stop,” said sophomore Nathan Murthy.

Miguel Altieri, agroecology professor and critic of the deal, called the contract a “tragedy for a public university.”

“It allows corporate capital to determine the kind of research that is going to be done on this campus and it’s going to change the public research agenda in favor of private interests,” he said.

But lab spokesperson Ron Kolb said his institution’s interactions with BP have thus far been positive.

Evan DeLucia, head of the plant biology department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he is looking forward to getting to work.

“We’re looking at this as one arrow in the quiver we might use to slow the rate of global warming,” he said.

Correction: November 16, 2007
Yesterday’s article “UC Berkeley and BP Ink $500 Million Deal,” incorrectly stated that the campus announced a $500 deal with BP nine months ago. In fact, the deal is for $500 million.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Clarification: November 16, 2007
Yesterday’s article “UC Berkeley and BP Ink $500 Million Deal,” may have implied that campus spokesperson Robert Sanders said, “This is BP’s chance to put their money where their mouth is. Five hundred million dollars is a big commitment.” In fact, that quote should be attributed to Stephen Long, the institute’s deputy director.

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