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03/14/2008 07:00:00

Somerville to Discuss Biofuels Development

PASADENA, Calif.-Christopher Somerville, one of the world's leading authorities on converting plant cellulose to energy, will speak at the California Institute of Technology's Chen-Huang Sustainable Energy Seminar Series on March 18 at 8 p.m. in Beckman Auditorium. He will discuss the technical issues involved with the U.S. Secretary of Energy's call to replace 30 percent of the liquid fuels used in the U.S. with cellulosic biofuels by 2030. The event is free and open to the public.

Each year, the earth receives from the sun about 3,500 times as much energy as humans are expected to use in 2050. Plants can be deployed on a large scale to capture and store solar energy, so it may be possible to use photosynthesis for large-scale production of renewable, carbon-neutral energy.

Somerville, a professor of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley, is the director of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), dedicated solely to the new field of energy bioscience. It was initially focused on developing the next generation of biofuels, and is now also looking into the various applications of biology in the energy sector. EBI, online at, is a unique collaboration among UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois, and BP.

The lecture series is underwritten by the Chen-Huang Endowed Energy Seminar Fund, which was established with a gift from Marina Chen and her husband, Chi-Fu Huang, in June 2006. Chen is a Caltech alumna who received her master's degree in 1980 and her PhD in 1983, both in computer science. The seminar series, is directed by Nathan S. Lewis, Caltech's George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry.


Written by Jacqueline Scahill