BP’s San Diego Biosciences Center (BSC) conducts research, supports investments and manages academic partnerships aimed at accelerating the world’s transition to a lower- carbon future.
As part of the company’s global technology team, the BSC studies how bioscience can add value to BP’s businesses and make them more sustainable. Created in 2015, its staff includes both scientists and engineers.
“What can biology do for an energy company? The short answer is, a lot,” says Kirsty Salmon, the BSC’s science team leader. “Most BP businesses work with biology in one form or another. The BSC conducts research and development programs that can help the biosciences make larger contributions to the company. It also identifies academic programs that can complement business needs.”
Among other capabilities, the BSC performs research on microbiology, metabolic engineering, microbial physiology, metabolic modeling, biochemistry, enzymology, fermentation and biogeochemistry. Its scientists can rapidly unlock genome information and identify potential models for gene integration. Their biodiversity archives feature some 80,000 tubes, vials and plates.
This research supports many aspects of BP’s operations, including the production of renewable energy, oil and natural gas, along with the development of innovative and efficient fuels and lubricants.
For example, the BSC works closely with BP Biofuels, which produces ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil. This ethanol has lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are 70 percent lower than conventional transportation fuels.
In 2017, BP Biofuels formed a joint venture with Copersucar — the world’s leading sugar and ethanol trader — to own and operate a major ethanol storage terminal in Brazil. The joint venture has helped BP better connect its ethanol production with the main Brazilian fuels markets.
The San Diego BSC also provides specialist advice to Butamax, BP’s joint venture with DuPont. The Butamax technology converts sugars from corn into an energy-rich biofuel known as bio-isobutanol, which can be blended with gasoline at higher concentrations than ethanol and transported through existing fuel pipelines and infrastructure.
In 2017, Butamax acquired a state-of-the-art ethanol plant in Kansas, and it plans to add bio-isobutanol production capacity to the facility.
Meanwhile, the BSC advises BP Ventures on low-carbon and other investments. To date, BP Ventures has invested more than $190 million in California-based companies, partnering to bring clean technologies and other leading- edge energy solutions to market.
In the years ahead, the BSC plans to expand its research in areas such as wastewater, remediation and enhanced oil recovery.
For example, it plans to help BP make further progress on converting waste streams to biogas, cleaning legacy industrial sites and producing oil more efficiently from existing resources.
“The BSC will play a significant role in helping BP reduce emissions in its operations, improve its products and create or expand low-carbon businesses,” says Steve Taggart, director of engineering, projects and operations both for the BSC and for BP’s Advanced Modeling Team. “The biosciences have broad application across our industry.” Beyond its lab and business work, the San Diego BSC team manages BP’s partnership with the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a world-class research program based at UC- Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
To date, the EBI has funded more than 75 research programs or projects in areas such as biofuels, biomass and renewable chemicals. BP has contributed more than $300 million to the EBI since 2007.