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Illinois institute named 'Deal of Distinction' by tech-transfer group

11/10/2008

Melissa Edwards, Director of Communications, IGB
217-333-0873; mme@illinois.edu

Stephen Long
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by Don Hamerman
University of Illinois crop sciences professor Stephen Long is deputy director of the Energy Biosciences Institute.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The landmark $500 million biofuels research partnership that created the Energy Biosciences Institute has been named a “Deal of Distinction” by the Licensing Executives Society, an organization of U.S. and Canadian technology transfer professionals.

The annual Deal of Distinction awards, announced Oct. 22, honor the “complex art” of technology licensing. According to the society, the awards recognize agreements that are clearly written and “permit intellectual property transfer at fair value,” thereby speeding the flow of research from the laboratory to the marketplace, where it can benefit society.

The Energy Biosciences Institute – a partnership between the University of Illinois, University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the energy company BP – draws upon many scientific disciplines to find clean, renewable energy sources and lessen the impact of fossil fuels on global warming. The institute focuses on the use of perennial crops, such as Miscanthus and switchgrass, and includes a 340-acre energy farm at the University of Illinois, where many of the practical innovations in developing and handling these crops are being pioneered.

EBI Deputy Director Steve Long, a professor of crop sciences and affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I., said one of BP’s requirements in their call for proposals was that these programs had to be integrated.

miscanthus and switchgrass
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
The Energy Biosciences Institute conducts research on potential biofuels crops, including the perennial grasses Miscanthus and switchgrass.

“Agronomists, economists, environmental scientists and engineers must work together on the same problems, so we are looking at the whole production chain, and innovations at each step,” he said. On the Illinois campus, the research is being realized within the Institute for Genomic Biology, which was designed to accommodate such integrated and goal-oriented research and the energy farm.

According to a statement from co-chairs Bob Gruetzmacher and Nathan Golden and chair-elect Elaine White, all from the Industry/University and Government Laboratory Transactions sector of the organization, the EBI contract is “unique in scope and represents an innovative model for collaboration between academia, government labs and industry.”

“This deal enables the partners to leverage complementary skills, expertise and resources in a way that has the potential to result in the development of novel energy sources and solutions that could significantly benefit the global community,” White said.

Long noted that the universities’ collaboration with BP was less restrictive than other partnerships of its kind.

“It's actually the largest industry single-investment in public universities in this country so far,” said Long. "The intellectual property and any patents which develop from this work belong to the university. The integration of university and BP employees within the institute is unique and heralds a very different model of academia-industry collaboration.”

Awards also were given in four other sectors of the organization, representing consumer products; chemicals, energy and materials; health care; and high technology.

Editor’s note: To reach Stephen Long, call: 217-333-2487; e-mail: slong@illinois.edu

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