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PNNL, WSU to advance biomass research in new facility

Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory partner to address dependence on imported oil and advance higher education

News Release

May 08, 2008 Share This!

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RICHLAND, Wash. — Washington State University and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory today dedicated a new building for the advancement of biomass research.

At the Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory, WSU & PNNL will work together to develop new solutions to some of the nation’s largest energy problems, strengthen opportunities to move technology into industry and provide students with a hands-on educational experience. The new $24.8 million facility is located on the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

At BSEL, researchers will create a portfolio of biobased products and fuels that will help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign petroleum and carbon footprint of energy use. Researchers will focus on biofuels that are more efficient to produce and more compatible with the existing fuels infrastructure than today’s biofuels. The research will advance conversion technologies that can be used with a variety of feedstocks, including non-edible cellulosic biomass and crops specifically grown for fuel.

“Cellulosic ethanol is a critical component of the President's comprehensive strategy to diversify our nation's energy sources in a sustainable manner, enhance energy security and address the serious challenge of global climate change," said Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "BSEL's work to develop and deploy clean and affordable renewable fuels will prove pivotal as the Bush Administration works aggressively to mitigate climate change and meet the rapidly growing demand for energy.”

A key objective of BSEL is to facilitate the transition of new technologies from the laboratory to commercial deployment. BSEL features a high-bay facility that will enable researchers to test new concepts close to industrial scale, increasing commercialization potential.

At BSEL, WSU students will also have the opportunity to test new ideas and skills in a real-world environment, preparing them for careers in science. The facility is designed to provide maximum interaction between students and national laboratory researchers, industry and faculty. Many PNNL researchers will teach classes, and students will have access to state-of-the art research equipment.

“One of the goals of education — and a goal that Washington State University takes quite seriously — is to provide students with the tools, knowledge and experience they need to make an impact on solving regional and national problems,” said Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University. “This facility and the ongoing collaboration with PNNL is a significant step toward equipping the next generation of workers to help solve national problems, such as dependence on imported oil and increasing carbon emissions.”

The state of Washington, led by Gov. Christine Gregoire, was instrumental in securing funding for BSEL through the university system and providing support for the hiring of world-class researcher Birgitte Ahring to lead the interdisciplinary center.

Ahring is an internationally recognized microbiologist with a diverse background that includes public-private partnerships, academic and industrial collaboration, high-level research and a passion for educating others. She will serve as director of the Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy at WSU and as a Battelle Distinguished Professor.

Ahring received her Ph.D. in microbiology in 1986 from the University of Copenhagen. She is founder and chief executive officer of BioGasol, an engineering and technology company that designs and develops technologies for second generation bioethanol production.

Mike Kluse, laboratory director at PNNL, noted, “BSEL is more than just a building. It’s a facility that gives researchers and students access to the best equipment to help tackle some of our country’s greatest needs.”



Physical Description:
BSEL is a 57,000-square-foot facility containing:

  • Teaching laboratories
  • Advanced biological and chemical research laboratories for bioproducts and selected science and engineering research areas
  • Engineering development laboratory to provide industry-relevant data
  • High-bay facility for pilot scale research
  • Classrooms and offices

Unique Features:
The BSEL facility contains equipment and facilities that foster inquiry-based learning, including:

  • Co-located, interdisciplinary research and teaching laboratories
  • State-of-the-art analytical, chemical and biological research instrumentation available to researchers, WSU faculty and students.
  • Integrated, advanced conversion and processing technologies for process development.

Specific Research Activities:
The research at BSEL will use world-leading capabilities to forward the specific goals of developing:

  • Biochemical conversions of cellulosic biomass to ethanol
  • Thermochemical conversions, including gasification and catalytic conversions, of cellulosic biomass to ethanol
  • Thermochemical conversions, including pyrolysis and catalytic conversions of cellulosic biomass to a potential crude oil replacement called hydrotreated pyrolysis oil that can be further refined to create diesel and gasoline in an existing petroleum refinery providing direct diesel and gasoline replacements

Construction of BSEL was funded by Washington State University’s higher education construction budget and a 20-year lease agreement between WSU and Battelle, which operates PNNL for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is the primary sponsor of PNNL's biomass research taking place in BSEL.

Tags: Energy, Environment, Fundamental Science, Operations, Biomass, Energy Efficiency, Emissions, Renewable Energy, Climate Science, Biology, Facilities

Washington State University Tri-Cities is an urban campus along the Columbia River in Richland, Wash. Established in 1989 with upper division and graduate programs, WSU Tri-Cities offers 17 baccalaureate, 14 graduate, and five doctoral degree programs. The campus added freshman and sophomore courses in fall 2007 to become a true four-year public university, extending the WSU land-grant mission of providing affordable, accessible higher education. For more information, call 509-372-7250.

PNNL LogoPacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on signature capabilities in chemistry, earth sciences, and data analytics to advance scientific discovery and create solutions to the nation's toughest challenges in energy resiliency and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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