New lab delves into plants for fuels

03/02/05

Goal is better understanding of how molecules interact

A new integrated facility designed to give scientists unprecedented insights into the chemical and biological reactions which can transform renewable plant and waste materials into useful sources of energy was dedicated yesterday at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Called the Biomass Surface Characterization Laboratory (BSCL), 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.

"This unique laboratory will further enhance the capabilities of our world-class biomass research team," said Michael Pacheco, 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."

The new laboratory will support development of new technologies for bio-refineries which will produce transportation fuels and a range of other products, much as a conventional oil refinery does today. Bio-refineries are to use renewable plant and waste materials instead of petroleum.

Officials from DOE's Office of Biomass Programs and NREL participated in a dedication event for the new laboratory, which is housed within the Field Test Laboratory Building on NREL's South Table Mountain campus.

"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, manager of DOE's Office of Biomass Programs.

"The investment required to develop this facility is testament to DOE's commitment to integrating renewable energy into our nation's energy infrastructure," Kaempf said.

The 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 to the most exacting standards.

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.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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