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Biomass Characterization Capabilities

A photo of a man wearing a white lab coat and looking into a large microscope.

A researcher uses an Atomic Force Microscope to image enzymes used in biochemical conversion.

Through biomass characterization, NREL develops, refines, and validates rapid and cost-effective methods to determine the chemical composition of biomass samples before and after pretreatment, as well as during bioconversion processing.

Detailed and accurate characterization of biomass feedstocks, intermediates, and products is a necessity for any biomass-to-biofuels conversion. Understanding how the individual biomass components and reaction products interact at each stage in the process is important for researchers.

With a large inventory of standard biomass samples as reference materials, DOE maintains a biomass feedstock composition and property database with historical NREL data for chemical, thermal, and mechanical properties of various biomass feedstock materials.

NREL's biomass characterization capabilities include:

  • Developing standard laboratory analytical procedures (NREL LAPs)
    NREL wrote most of the standard biomass laboratory analytical procedures for characterization that are used throughout the research community. In the Biomass Compositional Analysis Lab, we develop new methods and tools to understand more about chemical composition of raw biomass feedstocks and the solid, liquid, and slurry samples produced during conversion.

  • Performing real-time biomass analysis
    NREL combines multivariate analysis with near-infrared spectroscopy to provide real-time compositional analysis. Using this rapid non-destructive analysis technique, researchers can analyze a wide range of chemical characteristics of raw and processed biomass within minutes instead of days.

  • Investigating structural changes
    Researchers investigate structural changes in biomass from the plant tissue to the macromolecular scale using established and advanced imaging tools in the Biomass Surface Characterization Laboratory. NREL has developed methods to visualize the deconstruction of plant cell walls during biomass conversion. This provides an understanding, for example, of the behavior of lignin during the pretreatment process or of the interactions between enzymes and the biomass cell wall in the Biomass Surface Characterization Laboratory.

  • Understanding chemical and structural biomass composition
    Researchers perform quantitative and non-destructive analysis of lignin and cellulosic composition of biomass feedstocks; rapid determination of sugar and degradation product concentrations in biomass hydrolysates; and structural characterization of enzymes in the Magnetic Resonance Facility.

  • Characterizing fuel-producing microorganisms and enzymes
    Researchers perform qualitative and quantitative analyses of gases, metabolites, carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins; and microorganism screening and characterization in the Photobiology Research Laboratory.

Learn about NREL's biomass characterization projects.