Jerilyn Timlin serves as a principal investigator for the Algal Predator and Pathogen Signature Verification project. The project looks at exploring and exploiting the various detailed optical signatures that arise when the algae cultivation pond surface is monitored using Sandia’s optical spectroradiometric techniques. These techniques can differentiate algae growth and state of health and provide an early warning of the active presence of predators and pathogens in outdoor algal ponds. In 2009, Jerilyn was presented by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with a New Innovator Award to develop state-of-the-art imaging technology that can measure protein complex formation and protein networks. Learn more at Photo by Randy Montoya.

Celebrating National Bioenergy Day on Oct. 20

October 20, 2022 8:00 am Published by

It’s National Bioenergy Day! Celebrated annually in October, National Bioenergy Day focuses on raising awareness about bioenergy and its uses.

Today we’re taking a step back to look at a potential renewable source of energy — energy derived from plants or algae, also referred to as biomass — and the research behind it. This Bioenergy Day, catch a glimpse of the Sandia bioscience R&D that is “fueling” innovation to make biofuels and other bioproducts a reality to provide additional sources of renewable energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, protect the environment, and strengthen national security. 

Biotechnology and biomanufacturing have been recognized as areas that can continue to drive innovation, security, and economic growth. A National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative has even been announced to help harness the full potential of biotechnology and biomanufacturing. Sandia is working with peers at centers like the Joint BioEnergy Institute and Agile BioFoundry to expand market opportunities for bio-based products and develop the workforce of tomorrow.

Read on for a few highlights from bioenergy research at Sandia.

Steering toward a net-zero carbon transportation future

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative wrapped up six years of fuel and engine research designed to more rapidly reduce dependence on international petroleum and cut greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

Researchers from Sandia and other national laboratories partnered with peers from more than 40 universities and companies to examine how simultaneous improvements to fuels and engines could maximize energy efficiency and the use of renewable fuels, while decreasing emissions for the entire on-road fleet.

Findings were made available in a report published earlier this year.

The cover of the Co-Optima Findings and Impact Report
The Co-Optima Findings & Impact Report spotlights engine and fuel research innovations developed during the collaborative national 6-year initiative.

Biomanufacturing sustainable biofuels and bioproducts

A team of Sandia scientists is developing sustainable biofuels and bioproducts through microbial biomanufacturing, i.e. using biological systems to produce commercially important bioproducts.

One significant barrier to replacing petroleum-derived chemicals with plant biomass-derived bioproducts is the efficient conversion of pentose sugars. Some organisms — like strains of yeast, for example — can use pentose sugars and in turn produce biofuels or other valuable compounds. As part of the Agile BioFoundry, the team explored pentose utilization in R. toruloides, an attractive industrial host organism, and identified key paths to accelerate pentose sugar assimilation. These findings will directly contribute to improving the conversion of renewable biomass feedstocks into various bioproducts.

One-pot bioconversion of distiller’s grains to advanced biofuels

Increased bioethanol production throughout the United States has led to an increase in the process coproduct known as distiller’s grains with solubles (DGS). DGS can be used to feed livestock. However, product inconsistency and contamination issues have greatly reduced demand for DGS, resulting in a significant surplus.

A team at Sandia developed a “one-pot” bioconversion process that converts the major biochemical pools (carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids) into valuable biofuels, industrial chemicals, and high-value acids for fertilization.

Watch the video to hear a Sandia researcher talk about this technology and its potential.

Through a licensable bioconversion process, a surplus ethanol byproduct, known as “distiller’s grains with solubles” (DGS) can be converted into valuable biofuels and other useful products.

Biofuels in space?

Work led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — with Sandia supplying computer simulations to evaluate the product’s performance — has explored a candidate molecule for biofuels. This molecule exceeds the energy potential of JetA, a commonly used jet fuel. The work was supported by the DOE’s Office of Science and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Sending out an SOS

Sandia scientist Todd Lane is working alongside other researchers to spot “SOS” signals from algae. These signals could help protect algae crops. Lane is a coinvestigator and Sandia lead investigator on the DISCOVR team, a consortium of national labs investigating algae strains to find a sustainable and clean algal biofuel.

Read about the team’s previous work detecting pathogens and algae predators sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Sandia research paves way for sustainable jet fuel

Funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office, Sandia scientists have released data that could play an important role in the future development of cleaner and more sustainable aviation fuel.

In collaboration with researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the team explored the physical properties of cycloalkanes. These molecules are composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms arranged in a ring structure using only single bonds. When used in jet fuel, cycloalkanes may reduce condensation trail formation and soot emissions as compared to current fuels.

The team detailed their findings in an article published earlier this year in Frontiers in Energy Research.

A decorative illustration to represent sustainable aviation fuel
Findings from Sandia’s cycloalkanes research could play an important role in the future development of cleaner and more sustainable aviation fuel.

Comprehensive Sandia software aids scientists in synthetic biology analysis

Biologists at Sandia National Laboratories developed comprehensive software that will help scientists in a variety of industries create engineered chemicals more quickly and easily. Sandia is now looking to license the software — known as RetSynth — for commercial use, researchers said.

RetSynth uses a novel algorithm to sort through large, curated databases of biological and chemical reactions. The results could help scientists synthetically engineer compounds used in the production of biofuels, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, dyes, scents, and flavors.

The RetSynth software was originally developed as part of DOE’s Co-Optima initiative, a consortium of national laboratory, university and industry researchers. Co-Optima focused on creating innovative fuels and combining them with high-efficiency engines to reduce emissions and boost fuel economy.

An illustration of the retrosynthetic analysis conducted by Sandia’s RetSynth software. Using a novel algorithm, the software identifies the biological or chemical reactions needed to create a desired biological product or compound.
An illustration of the retrosynthetic analysis conducted by Sandia’s RetSynth software. Using a novel algorithm, the software identifies the biological or chemical reactions needed to create a desired biological product or compound.

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