Bioenergy at the National Laboratories

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories are at the core of the Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO’s) research and development (R&D) work. BETO and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy have a commitment to long-term stewardship of laboratory core capabilities to enable meaningful collaborations and accomplishments. 

On an annual basis, about half of BETO’s budget is devoted to R&D projects at the national laboratories. These projects have led to key findings and technology breakthroughs, resulting in many journal articles and patents. To achieve an even more significant industrial impact, BETO emphasizes bringing technology to market through targeted activities within the office’s R&D portfolio. National laboratories receive direct funding from BETO for specific R&D projects and are also frequently selected to conduct R&D for competitively selected projects.

BETO regularly funds projects at Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. 

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) carries out research in several key areas related to the reduction in biomass conversion costs, including developing cost-effective separations technologies, examining strategies to improve catalyst performance and lifetime, and converting waste streams to valuable fuels and products. Furthermore, ANL is a recognized expert in biofuel sustainability analysis with a focus on the influence of feedstock production on water consumption, water quality, and life-cycle environmental effects of biofuels. For example, ANL develops the Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET®) model for biofuels analysis. In addition, ANL has carried out innovative research in the area of sustainable landscape design, integrating the production of cellulosic biomass and conventional crops in collaboration with farming communities. Finally, ANL examines barriers to deployment of biofuels and helps develop mitigation strategies.

Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL’s) bioenergy research is focused on addressing barriers associated with efficiently, economically, and sustainably supplying large quantities of quality feedstock to future biorefineries. This effort includes improving feedstock preprocessing technologies and understanding feedstock variability and its implications on conversion processes, feedstock supply system design and analysis, and at-scale equipment testing and design. INL feedstock R&D occurs at several scales, ranging from laboratory scale, to bench-scale prototyping, to pilot-scale testing and demonstration. 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Using pioneering synthetic biology, molecular, computational, robotic and sequencing technologies, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL’s) bioenergy efforts are centered on altering biomass composition in plants and engineering organisms to produce energy-rich biofuels identical to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Current research focuses on developing sustainable and high-yielding feedstocks, new and improved ways to generate targeted intermediates from biomass, and tools and methods to facilitate the engineering of microorganisms to efficiently convert sugars derived from cellulosic biomass, in addition to creating advanced technologies to enable the development of biofuels. LBNL also houses a biofuels demonstration and scale-up facility. Its focus is to optimize and scale technologies to enable the commercialization of biobased chemicals, materials, and fuels.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) bioenergy researchers develop basic and applied technologies to enable a mechanistic understanding of diverse bioenergy challenges. LLNL’s research focus areas range from crop cultivation and biomass production (with an emphasis on systems-level microbial processes) to use of new materials and advanced manufacturing tools to intensify biocatalytic chemical transformations. For example, one LLNL-led project focused on cultivation of protective bacteria to increase microalgal crop yield and prevent pond crashes. Another multi-institutional project furthered scientific understanding of the microbial ecology underpinnings of biofuel production, using high-resolution stable isotope probing and proteogenomic analyses of metabolic pathways. Development of materials for conversion of gaseous biological feedstocks (such as biomethane and syngas) and materials for capture, storage, and transport of carbon dioxide is also ongoing. In addition, LLNL participates in research focused on improving sustainability and yield of feedstocks through characterizing plant–microbe and microbe–microbe interactions of superior genotypes under resource limitations. In collaboration with LBNL, LLNL investigates new proteins and metabolic pathways derived from microbial communities for the saccharification of lignocellulosic material.

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s bioenergy capability is characterized by multidisciplinary teaming of experimentalists and computational scientists in order to advance new energy technologies. Current research includes using multi-omics analysis and characterization to improve growth and stability in algae and plants; developing unique separations strategies to improve biofuel production efficiency; optimizing catalytic conversion to produce high-performance, low-greenhouse-gas fuels; and engineering new approaches to create platform chemicals in biological systems.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's bioenergy science and technology group performs a full range of research—from exploring biomass at the molecular level to biorefinery process optimization to bring biofuels and bioproducts to market. Lab specialties include analysis and characterization, bioenergetics, and biochemical and thermochemical processing complemented by state-of-the-art user facilities and pilot plants. 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Oak Ridge National Laboratory brings together experts from across scientific disciplines to analyze all aspects of the supply chain—from biomass resources to the sustainability of a fully developed bioeconomy. Current research focuses on conducting resource assessment and analysis, investigating methods to reduce logistics costs for the bioenergy industry, determining best management practices for socioeconomic and environmental sustainability, ensuring infrastructure and biorefinery materials are compatible with bio-oils, converting biomass to resin for 3D printing, and developing new technologies to enable lower-cost conversion of biomass to biofuels and bioproducts. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is helping drive the shift from petroleum to biobased fuels by developing the scientific and engineering foundations for converting biomass to biofuels that are infrastructure ready. Biofuels are fuels derived from plant materials, or biomass. Infrastructure-ready biofuels can use existing petroleum refinery and deployment capabilities with little new investment. PNNL works with advanced biotechnology and thermal processes to produce bio-crude, alcohols, and other intermediates. PNNL is developing technologies to convert these intermediates into the next generation of hydrocarbon chemicals and fuels, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels.

Sandia National Laboratories 

Sandia National Laboratories’ (SNL’s) bioenergy program focuses on two primary feedstock types—lignocellulose and microalgae—that show great promise for displacing fossil fuels. SNL is a key partner in the Joint Bioenergy Institute, a Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center investigating the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic biomass in fuels. SNL’s algae raceway testbed in the Livermore Valley Open Campus—a new collaboration space hosted by SNL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—tests new technology and overcomes challenges facing algal biofuels. SNL’s Applied Biosystems Laboratory is a state-of-the-art laboratory with specialized equipment for biomass conversion, enzyme engineering, synthetic biology, proteomics, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, DNA sequencing, and fermentation.