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Berkeley energy lab plans big expansion

By Reuters
Saturday, January 28, 2012 9:50 EDT
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OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) – The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said it will expand beyond its 200-acre Berkeley, California, campus with a 90-acre site in neighboring Richmond, California, hoping to ride gains in U.S. government energy research funding.

A new 300,000 square foot building will consolidate into one site the satellite offices employing some 800 researchers, most of them focused on biology, who are currently scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area. It could eventually grow up to 2 million square feet and involve researchers in other fields, according to planning documents released by the lab on Thursday.

Founded by cyclotron inventor Earnest O. Lawrence in 1931, the laboratory at first focused on nuclear energy but has gradually diversified and is now as much known for microscopy and nanotechnology as it is for energy.

The new campus will begin with work on biofuels, genomics and cancer research, said laboratory director Paul Alivisatos.

“The lab has been so successful that it’s branching out in all directions,” said Raymond L. Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, and a former undersecretary for science in the U.S. Department of Energy.

“It’s quite unusual for one lab to contribute across the spectrum,” he added.

Thirteen Nobel laureates have worked at the lab, which is primarily funded by the Department of Energy but run by the University of California.

After stagnating for a decade, U.S. funding for energy research will rise to $4.5 billion in 2012 from about $3.8 billion in 2007, said Matt Hourihan, a budget analyst for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. “There is bipartisan support for energy research,” he said.

The site in Richmond is already owned by the University of California, so the laboratory will not need to pay for its purchase. The lab is working now to set a budget for the new building, said lab spokesman Jon Weiner.

The laboratory’s budget for 2011 was $735 million, with an additional $101 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for a total of $836 million.

Its 2012 budget has not yet been set, said Weiner.

“If we work hard together and make this long-range development plan, start to secure the financing and work our way through the environmental impact studies, and get all the input from the community, I’m optimistic we will be back here in 2016 opening the doors to the campus,” said Alivisatos.

The construction and staff spending associated with the new campus is expected to boost the economy of Richmond, which has struggled with high unemployment.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Bohan)

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