Sandia researchers are studying the sustainability and environmental impact of biofuels production. Our scientists are investigating biomass structure and decomposition, the large-scale cultivation of algal biomass, the breakdown of biomass into constituents for fuel conversion, and the conversion process itself.
In addition, Sandians at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are leading the effort to deconstruct lignocellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars, an essential step in JBEI’s drive to develop next-generation biofuels.
Following are some examples of current biofuels research projects at Sandia:
- Algal biomass feedstock. Developing algae as a potential biomass feedstock by cultivating new algae strains, as well as enhanced extraction and conversion technologies to decrease the cost of producing fuels from algae.
- Bacterial fermentation. Developing a thermophilic bacterium that can simultaneously ferment pentose and hexose sugars into ethanol.
- Cellulolytic enzyme production. Expressing cellulolytic enzymes, which start the hydrolytic degradation of cellulose, within plant feedstock to greatly reduce the cost of converting cellulose into ethanol.
- Enzyme engineering. Engineering enzymes that can convert biomass into fermentable sugars at high temperatures and extreme pH levels for use in industrial settings.
- Ethanol-burning internal combustion engine (ICE). Developing a diagnostic ICE that runs on ethanol and ethanol/gasoline blends and that can be used to study the fundamental combustion characteristics of these blended fuels.
- Lignocellulosic biomass deconstruction. Investigating the structure and chemical composition of lignocellulosic biomass so that plant biomass can be broken down into fermentable sugars for ethanol conversion.
- Lignocellulosic biomass refinery design. Optimizing the design of lignocellulosic biomass biorefineries by exploring the relationships between biomass type, the type of pretreatment process used to prepare biomass for ethanol production, and the conversion of lignin residue material into liquid fuel.
- Microbial community investigations. Investigating microbial communities, where different organisms operate in concert to convert biomass into energy, to identify, isolate, and manipulate the systems that are the critical links for energy conversion.
- Thermochemically generated fuels. Researching thermochemically generated fuels, such as syngas and methane, which are readily converted to liquid fuels like methanol, ethanol, and butanol.