NREL Expands Biomass Research Potential

Plant and waste materials have always had the potential for energy production. Taking that potential and using it on a grand scale to create a source of energy that is useful to the general population is slowly making its way into the public view, however, and scientists are eager to find out all about the process.

The Biomass Surface Characterization Laboratory (BSCL) is the latest facility built at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and is designed to give scientists insights into the chemical and biological reactions that can transform renewable plant and waste materials into useful sources of energy. The $2.85 million facility features an array of electron and optical microscopes, and other advanced research tools, to probe biomass-to-energy processes at the most basic atomic and molecular levels. Highly sensitive instruments employed in the new laboratory must operate in a stringently controlled environment, and the BSCL includes systems to monitor and maintain temperature, humidity, acoustical vibration and cleanliness. Similarly, researchers using the lab will have at their disposal the latest computer hardware and software systems to capture, record and analyze the data they obtain. “This unique laboratory will further enhance the capabilities of our world-class biomass research team,” said Michael Pacheco, who is the director of the National Bioenergy Center, located at NREL. “It is our fervent hope that by assembling the best research equipment available within this new facility, we will hasten the day when our abundant biomass resources can be harnessed to cleanly and economically meet the nation’s critical energy needs.” BSCL will support development of new technologies for bio-refineries, which produce transportation fuels much the same as conventional oil refineries do. Bio-refineries use renewable plant and waste materials instead of petroleum, however. “The leading edge tools, the advanced research, and the skills and techniques that will be developed in this laboratory will allow technology developers to take biomass conversion technologies to the next level,” said Douglas Kaempf, who is the manager of DOE’s Office of Biomass Programs.
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