Energy and Climate

Sandia researchers are turning cellulosic biomass into jet fuel.

Global demand for energy has risen dramatically in recent years, yet the world continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels for its energy needs—a troubling key contributor to international issues of energy security and climate change. The U.S. presently imports 66% of the oil that is consumed in this country, and these imports contribute $400 billion to our trade deficit annually.   With less than 3% of the world oil reserves available for production domestically, the U.S. reliance on oil imports will likely worsen unless new, domestic alternatives can be developed.  To enhance the energy security of the United States, President Obama has called for reducing these imports by a third by 2025, and sustainable biofuels that are produced domestically from renewable biomass can potentially play a significant role in this plan.

Sandia’s biofuels program is focused on creating and demonstrating next-generation conversion technologies that can create “drop-in” replacements for today’s fuels – gasoline, diesel, and aviation. This program includes the development of thermochemical and biochemical conversion technologies routes to efficiently generate renewable biofuels from two primary feedstock types – lignocellulose and microalgae.  Both of these feedstocks have significant promise in terms of displacing fossil fuels, but significant challenges remain that require further research and development.

To overcome these challenges, Sandia scientists are conducting fundamental investigations regarding the sustainability and environmental impact of biofuels productions and use. We are using our bioscience capabilities in genomics and proteomics, as well as our world-class biotechnology capabilities in biochemical imaging, computational biology, computational science, microfluidics, and nanotechnology, to investigate the following crucial issues in biofuels R&D:

  • Biomass structure and decomposition
  • Breakdown of biomass into constituents for fuel production
  • Fuel conversion process
  • Cultivation of biomass (especially microalgae)
  • Techno-economic modeling
  • Lifecycle analysis and systems modeling

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