Big Oil and UC Berkeley supporting cellulosic research

There’s a notable story in the SF Chron about miscanthus, a tropical “superweed” so tough and prolific that it looks to be a promising source for cellulosic ethanol — good for the environment and potentially translating into bundles of cash for farmers.

This is ironic, because the efforts to grow it — see story — are part of a $500 million effort by UC Berkeley’s partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, funded by British oil giant BP.

Critics says the funding is a way for big oil to meddle with the research agenda of top universities, and protests have sought to stop the funding. But the program will support “hundreds of scientists in a push to create cheap, abundant vehicle fuels from sources of renewable carbon including farmed trees, manure, garbage and customized energy crops,” the Chron’s piece reports.

Fears of nefarious corporate influence on academic freedom prompted howls of protest at UC Berkeley when oil giant BP announced five months ago that it had selected the campus to host its $500 million biofuels research project. But in the Midwest, where UC Berkeley’s research partners at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will work on the agricultural side of the problem, there was little if any ruminating over the power dynamics of such a large industry partnership with a public university.

Here’s our original piece about the UC-Berkeley-BP partnership.

(Photo above is courtesy of UIUC. The woman standing next to the giant plant is 5’4”, demonstrating the plant’s size.)