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Argonne’s Integrated Approach to Developing Biofuels and Engines

A diverse group of Argonne scientists and engineers are involved in a highly collaborative effort to make biofuels and engines work together more efficiently.

Biophysicists, theoretical chemists and mechanical engineers are among the researchers working together toward an integrated approach that combines the production of new biofuels with the design of internal combustion engines.

“Not only could this effort lead to cleaner, more efficient vehicles, it could also result in groundbreaking, new paradigms for the transportation industry,” said Doug Longman, a mechanical engineer in Argonne’s Transportation Technology R&D Center.

The group is joining forces for in-depth research on fuel production, combustion analysis, engine evaluation, and life cycle analysis and process economics. The success of the project relies on constant communication and collaboration across each of the scientific disciplines involved.

Fuel Production

Biophysicists and biochemical engineers are creating new bacteria to produce next-generation biofuels and feedstocks. Their work includes:

4 Developing plant and algal-type feedstocks that efficiently use sunlight, carbon dioxide, nutrients and water to produce biofuels,

The multidisciplinary team combines basic and applied science, shares its findings and brainstorms solutions that will lead it to the ultimate goal of new higher-performance, lower-emissions combustion strategies and engine designs.

4 Separating and converting biofuels from engineered bacteria to improve the energy efficiency of the fuel production process,

4 Tailoring feedstock composition and processing techniques to produce and enhance fuel properties while controlling fuel costs, and

Argonne is uniquely qualified to pioneer this integrated approach. The Lab has programs in theoretical and experimental combustion chemistry and a renowned transportation program with strengths in engine characterization and testing, environmental impact analysis and fuel development. Bringing these programs together enables a design-test-feedback cycle that covers the critical aspects of fuel design and use.

4 Scaling up production of promising biofuels for combustion simulation and performance testing.

Building on a National Plan

Biofuels have emerged as a key part of the national plan to reduce dependence on imported energy and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Argonne’s work aims to design biofuels and engines that meet these goals, while also remaining affordable to consumers. The team is currently focused on developing infrastructure- compatible “drop-in” fuels that can be deployed in the existing petroleum pipeline, refinery and service station system. This compatibility will facilitate the transition from petroleum to biofuels without requiring billions of dollars of investment.

Argonne biophysicist Philip Laible oversees the growth of new variants of photosynthetic bacteria designed to produce target biofuel molecules. In this culture mode, it is easy to extract cells during all phases of growth for analysis, and add chemicals (shown here) to speed growth or induce the production of target fuels.





Summer 2010

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