Oak Ridge National Laboratory brings together teams from across laboratory disciplines and the country to research feedstocks, feedstock logistics, biorefineries, product delivery, and the sustainability of the supply chain. Its goal is to enable the US national vision of large-scale sustainable production of biofuels, bio­products, and biopower to enhance energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote the rural economy. ORNL also supports national agencies and decision makers by supplying timely, extensive information on all aspects of bioenergy.

This ORNL research is funded primarily by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office with additional support from Laboratory Directed Research Funds, US Department of Agriculture, and industry partners. Researchers with ORNL’s Bioenergy Technologies Program also collaborate frequently with the Bioenergy Science Center, which is funded by the DOE Office of Science.

Feedstock Supply & Logistics

ORNL’s expertise in resource assessment and economics led to the production of DOE’s first Billion Ton Study for the Department of Agriculture in 2005 and the subsequent Billion Ton Update of 2011. The original Billion Ton Study supported the development of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, confirming the technical feasibility of US lands supplying a billion tons of biomass annually.

Researchers update feedstock supply assessments and price projections annually. Much of this information employs advanced geospatial analysis to visually map data by regions, states, and even counties. This data provides a basis for government and industry leaders to make strategic policy and commercialization decisions that support the evolving bioenergy industry.

ORNL data and visualization tools, along with data from other contributors, are available for use by government, industry, academia, and the public on the DOE Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework.

Analysis and Sustainability

The Center for BioEnergy Sustainability is a leading resource for dealing with the environmental impacts and the ultimate sustainability of biomass production for conversion to biofuels and bio-based products. Its purpose is to use science and analysis to understand the sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) of current and potential future bioenergy production and distribution; to identify approaches to enhance bioenergy sustainability; and to serve as an independent source of the highest quality data and analysis for bioenergy stakeholders and decision makers.

Conversion Technologies

ORNL researchers invent, evaluate, and improve processes and technologies that increase efficiency in the production of biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts from renewable sources. Areas of focus include upgrading of ethanol to hydrocarbons, advanced separation technologies, and new catalysts for bio-oil conversion.

Materials Compatibility

In collaboration with industries, universities and other laboratories, ORNL’s studies are addressing the compatibility of various alloys with biomass-derived oils.  The ORNL-led studies include laboratory corrosion tests of candidate structural materials in bio-oils, exposure of samples in lab, demo and commercial scale facilities with subsequent examination of the samples, and examination of components removed from biorefineries and other biomass systems to determine the extent of degradation of the components by the operating environments.

Before new biofuels are introduced in the marketplace (including new concentrations of ethanol in gaso­line), their effects on vehicles and the fueling infrastructure must be determined. ORNL researchers conduct studies to determine the compatibility of new fuels with vehicle technologies and materials commonly used in fuel pumps and storage facilities.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy