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Sandia spearheads research into energy alternatives that will help the nation reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and to combat the effects of climate change. Sandia’s long history with geothermal, solar, and wind energy research has seen a vast increase in effort and intensity over the past 15 years and has also been supplemented in recent years with efforts in biologically based fuels: biomass from non-food plant sources and algae—both of which can be grown on land unsuitable for farming.
The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) establishes a clear target for biofuels: 36 billion gallons/year (BGY) by 2022. RFS2 includes a cap of 15 BGY on corn ethanol—leaving a 21 BGY gap that must be met through advanced biofuels generated by converting nonfood biomass, e.g., lignocellulose and algae. Several approaches for converting biomass into advanced, renewable transportation fuels are more compatible than ethanol with today’s existing petroleum-based infrastructure. Sandia has several ongoing internal and external programs in bio- and thermochemically converting lignocellulosic biomass into advanced biofuels. Sandia is a partner in the $134M, 5-year, DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), which has focused on using synthetic biology to develop a biochemical route to fuels such as isopentanol, biodiesel, and aviation fuels. Another strategic target for Sandia is realizing algae as a viable source of biofuels. We have internal and external programs developing new technologies for the entire algal biofuels value chain. Sandia is a partner in the Sustainable Algae Biofuels Consortium, along with Arizona State University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is developing new methods of converting algae into advanced biofuels.