Yep, the British oil giant’s dream that spawned the largest corporate academic grant in history is dying, reports Bloomberg:
BP Said Planning to Close US Cellulosic Operation by End-1Q 2015
BP Plc (BP/) plans to close down its U.S. cellulosic operation by the end of next year’s first quarter, according to a person familiar with the development.
The business was part of an effort to find ways to produce ethanol from sources such as switchgrass, wood chips and agricultural waste as an alternative to biofuels from food crops. BP Biofuels North America paid $98.3 million in 2010 for Verenium Corp.’s cellulosic biofuels business. The purchase included facilities in Jennings, Louisiana and San Diego.
Cellulosic biofuel is a liquid fuel made by extracting sugars out of grass. At the time of the purchase from Verenium, BP executives said they intended to be a leader in the industry in the U.S.
BP is exploring options to sell the demonstration plant in Jennings, a technology center in San Diego, the Highlands feedstock farm in Florida and some activities in Brazil, Houston or London, spokesman Brett Clanton, said in an e-mail.
The British firm, once known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, failed in its bid to leverage the power of American academics here at the University of California at Berkeley in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create a genetically engineered microbe capable of turning plant fiber into fuel at a reasonable cost.
The half-billion-dollar grant, the largest ever given to a public university, created the Energy Bioscience Institute, housed in a taxpayer-funded building in downtown Berkeley, which housed a team of scientists from the university and the oil company.
The pact between the university and the petro giant was negotiated in secret and the deal was announced without consultation with the university’s academic senate, prompting a general furor and student and faculty protests, leading to an eventual submission to the senate, where debate was tightly controlled and the outcome a foregone conclusion.
Leading the charge for the deal was the-then president of the UC Board of Regents and spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rich “Greasy Thumb” Blum, who is currently adding to his millions by selling off the historical legacy of the U.S. Postal Service, for which the CBRE Group, Inc. which he chairs draws a tidy commission.
Back in the days when we reported for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered the controversy surrounding the project and senate vote, and were persuaded by the evidence offered by Tad Patzek, then a petroleum geologist on Cal’s faculty, and others such as Cal plant microbiologist Ignacio Chapela that BP’s vision was based on flawed and ecologically dangerous scientific premises. The deal was also riddled with conflicts of interest, and research was underway before the deal was even signed.
Now even BP is giving up on the dream.
Another fuelish dream slowly dies. . .
Some of the biggest boosters of the BP deal have made millions of agrofuel dreams by building up and selling off companies using genetic engineering techniques developed while on the public payroll,
The most notable example is Amyris, which gave Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling a nice ten-figure profit when he cashed out. Amyris promised to develop cost efficient fuels far more energy efficient than ethanol.
Good thing for Keasling that he cashed out when he did, since even massive cash infusions from Bill Gates, French oil giant Total [BP’s major European competitor along with Shell], and the Singapore government’s investment company haven’t been able to save the company’s dream.
The only commercial products the company’s been able to produce in commercially viable quantities have been cosmetic oils, not vehicle fuels. . .which may account for which the firm’s shares are currently selling for $2.42, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.
We really wonder what’s happening inside that massive building in Downtown Berkeley where BP’s scientists toiled away in hopes of fulfilling their oh-so-profitable fuelish dreams. While the deal was heavily covered at the time it went down, it’s been virtual silence ever since.
Now that BP’s abandoned its production dreams in the U.S., hopefully one of the local papers will pick up the lead and follow through.