Three DOE National Labs Receive R&D 100 Awards for Biomass Technology Advancements

August 20, 2010

R&D Magazine announced in July the 2010 winners of its annual R&D 100 Awards, which include three U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories honored for their contributions to the advancement of biofuels and biobased products. R&D Magazine describes the coveted R&D 100 Awards as the "Oscars of Innovation," which aim to identify and celebrate the top high technology products of the year. An independent panel of judges selects the awardees based on the technical significance, uniqueness, and usefulness of projects and technologies from across industry, government, and academia. The highlighted technologies include sophisticated testing equipment, innovative new materials, chemistry breakthroughs, biomedical products, and consumer items.

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) was recognized for its Supercritical/Solid Catalyst (SSC), which converts discarded, environmentally unfriendly wastes into biodiesel fuels. Using very precise temperatures and pressures, the SSC combines fat or oil feedstock with supercritical fluid solvents and alcohols to dissolve the materials during a single phase. This process eliminates the multiple steps needed in traditional biodiesel production. The SSC provides many benefits: it emits 86% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum and could replace 20% of petroleum diesel in the United States. Plus, it eliminates the use of toxic material and clean-water consumption during biodiesel production.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was recognized for its ultrasonic biofuel harvester, which was developed through LANL’s bioscience division. This environmentally friendly, energy-efficient process uses algae as a fuel and feed source. The process involves a nontraditional method of extracting algal oils, and it eliminates risks to people and the environment to produce ethanol or methane. The proteins produced are also safe to feed cattle, poultry, and fish. The ultrasonic biofuel harvester is currently the only technology available that uses one method to secure and separate the three beneficial components of algae: oil, protein, and water.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) was recognized for developing a process that makes propylene glycol from renewable sources. This process led to PNNL researchers’ creation of a chemical catalyst that converts a plant-based compound into the additive. This catalytic process was licensed in 2006 by Archer Daniels Midland Company—creator of the first full-scale plant that will make propylene glycol from renewable sources—and is capable of annually producing one-fourth of the propylene glycol needed in the United States.