Oak Ridge National Laboratory brings together experts from across scientific disciplines to analyze all aspects of the bioenergy supply chain—from biomass resources to the environmental 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.
This ORNL research is funded primarily by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office with additional support from Laboratory Directed Research Funds, US Department of Agriculture, and industry partners. Researchers with ORNL’s Bioenergy Technologies Program also collaborate frequently with the Bioenergy Science Center, which is funded by the DOE Office of Science.
Feedstock Supply & Logistics
ORNL’s expertise in resource assessment and economics led to the production of DOE’s first Billion-Ton Study with the Department of Agriculture in 2005, and the laboratory has since updated the assessment twice. The report confirms the technical feasibility of US lands supplying a billion dry tons of biomass annually. The latest report, the 2016 Billion-Ton Study included a second volume that went beyond the resource assessment to examine the potential environmental effects of producing increased amounts of biomass. ORNL is using the data in studies of biomass logistics that can be used to develop robust supply chains for a thriving bioeconomy.
ORNL data and visualization tools, along with data from other contributors, are available for use by government, industry, academia, and the public on the DOE Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework.
Analysis and Sustainability
The Center for BioEnergy Sustainability is a leading resource for dealing with the environmental impacts and the ultimate sustainability of biomass production for conversion to biofuels and bio-based products. Its purpose is to use science and analysis to understand the sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) of current and potential future bioenergy production and distribution; to identify approaches to enhance the long-term viability of bioenergy; and to serve as an independent source of the highest quality data and analysis for bioenergy stakeholders and decision makers.
ORNL researchers invent, evaluate, and improve processes and technologies that increase efficiency in the production of biofuels and bioproducts from renewable sources. Areas of focus include upgrading of ethanol to hydrocarbons, advanced separation technologies, such as novel membranes, and new catalysts for bio-oil conversion.
Using the laboratory’s high-performance computing capabilities, researchers are modeling conversion processes from the atomic to the reactor scale to increase fundamental understanding of the reactions occurring during biomass conversion. These models accelerate the optimization of conversion processes and the development of novel materials.
ORNL uses its wealth of materials expertise to develop new understanding and new materials that prevent materials degradation issues from limiting biomass conversion technologies. In collaboration with industry, universities, and other laboratories, ORNL scientists conduct laboratory corrosion tests of candidate structural materials in bio-oils and examine components removed from biorefineries and other biomass systems to determine the extent of degradation of the components by the operating environments. Research includes the development of corrosion-resistant alloys and new mitigation strategies to prevent or reduce corrosion.
Before new biofuels are introduced in the marketplace (including new concentrations of ethanol in gasoline), their effects on vehicles and the fueling infrastructure must be determined. ORNL researchers conduct studies to determine the compatibility of new fuels with vehicle technologies and with materials commonly used in fuel pumps and storage facilities.
By integrating basic and early-stage applied research capabilities, ORNL is leading the way to developing new bioderived materials for use in large-scale additive manufacturing. Scientists have 3D printed components using resins made with poplar, flax, and bamboo. Researchers are using fundamental plant and materials science to experiment with renewable feedstocks and optimize them for additive manufacturing.