University Labs Get Help from BP, Dow Chemical

It might elicit protests from the college crowd, but university and corporate research partnerships are a lifeline for emerging innovation in the cleantech industry. There was two more of these big academia/big industry cleantech unions this week.

This morning BP and Arizona State University, as well the Science Foundation Arizona, announced a research partnership to work on photosynthetic bacteria to produce biodiesel. Photosynthetic bacteria needs solar energy and a production facility, which requires lower costs than other types of biodiesel production and suits the climate of Arizona.

BP also announced a deal with UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earlier this year. The research collaboration is worth $500 million. That effort still elicits protests from the Berkeley crew and one in October on the Berkeley campus used a mocked-up Trojan horse to rally against the environmental effects of biofuel production and general corporate control of research at the university. These smaller projects will likely be less high profile.

At the same time earlier this week UC Berkeley’s Business School and College of Chemistry said they are creating a Sustainable Products and Solutions (SPS) Program with an initial $2 million, and a total on $10 million, in financing from the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation. The schools say they will focus on “sustainability issues involving society, science, engineering, the environment and finance.”

While these corporate/academic partnerships will cause some controversy when it comes to big business influencing and owning key cleantech IP, corporate funding is a necessary and invaluable resource. One of the positive affects of the media hype of the green movement is that students are beginning to focus more and more on studies that can help fight climate change. The future of the cleantech industry will be born out of these university labs.