Biomass

Sandia provides the foundational science and technology to enable the production of renewable, high performance fuels and bio-advantaged products from biomass. Sandia’s biomass science and conversion research facilitates and safeguards the nation’s bioeconomy.

Sandia focuses on lignocellulosic, waste and algal biomass feedstocks. Sandia’s unique capabilities encompass the areas of advanced imaging and spectroscopy, lignin characterization, high-throughput enzyme assays, microfluidic devices for biofuels research, systems analysis, techno-economic modeling, and computational bioscience for advanced bioproducts and biofuels production.

Lignocellulosic Fuels and Products

JBEI researcher  with switchgrass - lignocellulose deconstruction

Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most abundant plants on Earth and is a critical feedstock to produce renewable fuels and products. Lignocellulose is a mixture of complex sugars and lignin, a non-carbohydrate polymer that provides strength and structure to plant cell walls. By extracting simple fermentable sugars from lignocellulose and producing biofuels, the potential of the most energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable non-food feedstock can be realized.

Sandia is focused on:

  • Advanced technologies that break down biomass and liberate sugars that can be converted to biofuels, developing a new toolbox to transform intermediaries into fuels.
  • Pioneering a new process to convert lignin to renewable fuels and chemicals using ionic liquids that increase the sugar yields from diverse feedstocks.
  • Understanding and developing a wide range of biochemical, chemical, and thermochemical approaches to depolymerizing lignin to increase its value.
  • Lifecycle analysis and techno-economic modeling of biorefineries.
  • Developing computational tools for retrosynthetic analysis.

Algal Fuels and Products

a lab growing algae

Algal strain improvement develops highly productive algal strains that resist predators and environmental stressors and are suitable for cultivation in large-scale algal farming operations.

Strain improvement R&D includes:

  • Prospecting and isolating algae strains to identify algae with desirable properties;
  • Investigating potential biological improvements from breeding, modification, and genetic engineering to improve photosynthetic efficiency, growth rates, lipid productivity, biomass yield, or other desirable traits; and
  • Tools and methods to rapidly screen strains for promising traits and productivity.

Commercial scale algae production could meet the transportation fuel needs of the United States. Algal biofuels use a relatively small land area compared to lignocellulosic fuels—fuels produced from agricultural waste or energy crops. Microalgae consume CO2 as a nutrient, grow using impaired (e.g., brackish) water sources on land that does not compete with food, and produce much higher fuel yields than other biomass feedstocks grown on land.

Sandia is focused on:

  • Production and conversion of whole turf algae polycultures that maximize fuels, chemicals and other nutrients.
  • Real time diagnostics and monitoring of pathogens and predators to mitigate crop losses from pond crashes.
  • Efficient and economical methods to remove water from algal ponds.
  • Metals remediation, water management and nutrient recycling.

Anthe George

(925) 294-2723

angeorg@sandia.gov