Research

Biofuels

Overcoming challenges to make advanced "drop-in" biofuels a reality

Sandia researchers are developing clean and renewable sources of energy to help minimize climate change and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. To this end, we are creating thermochemical, chemical, and biochemical conversion technologies to efficiently generate renewable biofuels that can displace gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel with no loss of performance or engine efficiency. Sandia is focused on two primary feedstock types—lignocellulose and microalgae—that show great promise for displacing fossil fuels, once significant R&D challenges are overcome.

Lignocellulosic Biofuels: Enhancing the promise by reducing costs

Abundantly available from sustainable non-food U.S. sources, lignocellulosic biomass is seen as a critical feedstock for the production of renewable fuels. But significant reductions in energy inputs and productions costs are needed before lignocellulosic biofuels can become truly cost-competitive.

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    Sandia works in these areas to create advanced conversion technologies for generating high-performance biofuels:

    • Building a fundamental understanding of biomass resistance to conversion through advanced imaging and spectroscopy
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    • Developing advanced biomass pretreatments, such as ionic liquids, to enable more efficient liberation of sugar from a wide range of feedstocks
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    • Engineering lignocellulolytic enzymes that can survive in high temperature and high salinity environments
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    • Developing routes to creating valuable products from lignin, a major byproduct of biofuel generation
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    • Pursuing synthetic biology approaches to enable organisms to generate higher biofuels production levels
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    • Conducting lifecycle analysis and techno-economic modeling of biorefineries

    Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI)

    Sandia is a key partner in the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), a Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center in Emeryville, California, that is investigating the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic biomass in fuels. Learn more about research taking place at JBEI.

Algal Biofuels: Advancing this high-potential fuel toward commercialization

Biofuels derived at from microalgae at the commercial scale could, if efficiently produced, meet the transportation fuels needs of the entire United States—while using a much smaller land area compared to that required by other non-food plant fuel sources.

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    Microalgae are an ideal feedstock for several reasons: consume CO2 as a nutrient, they grow in brackish water on land not used for food and have the potential to produce much higher fuel yields than other land-based biomass feedstocks. Recognizing the need for significant breakthroughs to advance this beneficial fuel source to commercial viability, Sandia is pursuing R&D on several fronts:

    • Increasing the productivity and stability of algal ponds through polyculture
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    • Creating advanced dewatering techniques for separating algae from a solution
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    • Developing advanced spectroscopic and microfluidic diagnostic tools to monitor microalgae health and production of lipids—the main source of fuel energy
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    • Designing and implementing computational modeling of algal cultivation ponds, also called raceways
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    • Conducting lifecycle and systems analysis of algal biorefineries

    Algae Raceway Testbed

    Sandia has established an algae raceway testbed in the Livermore Valley Open Campus—a new collaboration space hosted by Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—to test new technology and overcome challenges facing algae biofuels.