BERKELEY -- Crews broke ground Friday on a $54 million Solar Energy Research Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. began building a three-story, 40,000-square-foot facility that will be devoted to researching and developing transportation fuels from sunlight using photovoltaic and electrochemical solar energy systems, according to a company news release.

The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2014.

The new building will be tucked in a hillside at the Berkeley Lab overlooking the UC Berkeley campus.

Heinz Frei, director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, said the new facility will house some of the most cutting edge energy development work in the world, including generating fuels from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.

"At this new building you will have fundamental research conducted by scientists working shoulder-to-shoulder with engineers to translate the science to new technologies," Frei said.

Frie said the Berkeley and Richmond campuses will both be leaders in renewable fuel technology, one of the most in demand research in the 21st century. The Richmond facility will be a leader in biofuel production, Frei said, while Berkeley will lead on converting sunlight to fuels using nanotechnology.

The Berkeley lab was started in 1931, and researchers have won more than a dozen Nobel Prizes. The U.S. Department of Energy lab is managed by the University of California.


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The new construction and expansion at the dense Berkeley lab site follows an announcement earlier this year that a second lab campus will be built on Richmond's southern shoreline area.

The Richmond site plans call for a 2-million-square-foot facility at the 120-acre Richmond Field Station that will house more than 800 scientists doing research in bioscience, cancer, bioenergy and other research. Construction has not yet begun, but plans call for the facility to be operational by 2016.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow at Twitter.com/roberthrogers