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NREL Fermentation Laboratory Video (Text Version)

This is the text version for the NREL Fermentation Laboratory video.

The video opens with a collage of researchers. Music plays in the background. 

The video shows cars/traffic on a highway.

Nancy Dowe: "We need a different fuel."

The cars and trucks that clog our roads...

Nancy Dowe: "We need to get away from oil."

The video shows a fuel nozzle in a car's gas tank then shows a fuel pump sale price window.

...guzzle hundreds of millions of gallons of gasoline a day. Demand is high. The price of oil at a premium.

The video shows Kent Evans, former NREL researcher, speaking.

Kent Evans: "The price of gasoline has been a big boost in the interest in alternative fuels."

The video shows an image of the Alternative Fuels User Facility, Golden, Colorado. Then it shows Nancy Dowe, NREL researcher, pointing to small glass bottles containing clear liquid.

Nancy Dowe: "This is what we're all about. This is what we're trying to make and make a lot of it."

The video shows ethanol, a clear liquid fuel, in a bottle.

This clear liquid could be the first in a progression of low cost, clean fuels our country is calling for…a green gasoline that's better for the entire globe.

Nancy Dowe: "And I always tell them that mom's going to work to save the planet."

Nancy Dowe's life work is to help develop an affordable alternative fuel. She's doing just that alongside the team of scientists in the Fermentation Lab at the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

The video shows Nancy Dowe entering the fermentation lab, then shows the exterior of the Alternative Fuels User Facility building in Golden, Colorado, and then follows Nancy Dowe as she walks through the pilot plant.

Nancy Dowe: "We're in the fermentation section of our pilot plant."

The video shows internal views of the pilot plant.

This is the bioprocessing pilot plant where NREL researchers use biochemical processes to brew biofuel but not the more common corn grain ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is made from organic plant matter called biomass.

The video shows different forms of biomass such as switchgrass, corn stalks, and poplar in small hand-held containers.

Kent Evans: "That could be poplar, oak."

The video shows a split screen with corn stalks standing in a field on the left side and Nancy Dowe speaking on the right side.

Nancy Dowe: "The stalks and leaves left after they've taken the corn."

The video shows Kent Evans speaking.

Kent Evans: "We've got a lot of different types of biomass out there available."

The video shows different types of biomass in small containers.

It is an abundant fuel source but creating ethanol from biomass is complicated. The challenge is breaking the plant structure down to its individual sugars. 

Nancy Dowe: "Here at NREL, our process is to apply heat and acid."

After pretreatment

Nancy Dowe: "So this is the corn stover."

The video shows various stages of corn stover from biomass to pretreated corn stover.

The fermentation lab inside the Alternative Fuels User Facility takes over.

Nancy Dowe: "We've really changed the structure and that's what we're trying to do."

The video shows Christine Roche, former NREL researcher, working in the lab with pretreated corn stover. Fermented samples are shown agitating horizontally in a shaker box.

The scientists here specialize in processing the sugars in biomass. They're producing cellulosic ethanol but this is just one of many biofuels NREL will develop in the future. Biomass can generate ethanol, butanol, methanol, renewable diesel, and hydrogen – all clean, domestic, sustainable fuels.

The video shows text of each fuel as it is narrated, then shows Christine Roche as she washes the pretreated solids in the laboratory.

Christine Roche: "I am taking our pretreated solids and washing them." 

The video shows biomass at various stages starting from raw corn stover fibers, to a muddy brown slurry in a plastic tray, and to a thick brown liquid in a glass bottle.

NREL's fermentation researchers work with the biomass at different consistencies from a solid mass to a slurry mix or a syrupy liquid.

The video shows Nancy Dowe opening a container and smelling the liquid contents.

Nancy Dowe: "This liquor has that kinda sweet, sugar kinda smell to it."

While corn contains just glucose, biomass is sugar-rich.

The video shows text listing hemicellulosic sugars glucose, xylose, arabinose, galactose, and mannose.

Kent Evans: "Glucose, obviously. Then you also have five-carbon sugars of xylose and arabinose…you have galactose and mannose."

The video shows NREL researchers working in the fermentation lab.

Nancy Dowe: "All of those sugars that are in the biomass really need to be converted to ethanol."

NREL's fermentation lab uses enzymes, which are naturally occurring proteins, to convert chains of linked sugar molecules, known as cellulose, to a more simple form.

Nancy Dowe: "Breaking down those long chains of glucose down to single monomer sugars."

Microorganisms like yeast and bacteria are also introduced to the pretreated slurry.

The video shows Nancy Dowe holding a flask containing a sample of pretreated biomass.

Nancy Dowe: "In here is yeast and enzyme."

So the enzymes convert the cellulose in biomass to glucose. The microorganisms consume the sugars and produce ethanol.  

Nancy Dowe: "It's amazing."

The video shows pretreated biomass swirling around in shake flasks on a shaker table in the laboratory.

Samples are monitored first in smaller shake flasks. Successful experiements

Gary McMillen: "How well the experiment went and how well the microorganism did."

Are scaled up to the fermenters.

Nancy Dowe: "And so now we're starting to look at equipment that looks a lot like the pilot plant equipment."

The video shows different equipment in the fermentation lab.

The process is refined in the lab before graduating to the pilot plant.

The video shows large NREL fermenters in the pilot plant, which look like large metal tanks with multiple pipes and valves.

Nancy Dowe: "Four 9,000 liter fermenters."

The video returns to NREL researchers working in the fermentation lab.

Production now takes up to a week. The goal is to cut that time in half and to ferment a cellulosic ethanol that's cost competitive with corn grain ethanol and more importantly, with gasoline.  NREL's fermentation lab is on the leading edge of biofuels development and it is an invaluable resource for industry partners and academic researchers.  

Ali Mohagheghi: "See, there is a mixed culture that we have here."

The lab is also testing advanced organisms that better tolerate the harsh fermentation environment and ultimately produce more biofuels from biomass. 

Nancy Dowe: "Zymomonas mobilis, it's our recombinant microorganism that we developed here at NREL."

Scientists here are committed to cultivating low cost biofuels that take less time to create.

Nancy Dowe: "It's going to have to happen. We don't have a choice."

The video again shows NREL researchers working in fermentation lab.

Domestically produced biofuels that are better for our environment and energy future. NREL's fermentation lab is doing its part to pave the way for these renewable fuels of the future.

The video pans through a series of images from prices on a gas pump to NREL researchers working in the laboratory to traffic on a highway.

Nancy Dowe: "This is that technology that's going to bridge the next generation of energy technologies. So, it's going to happen and it's going to be a reality, and yeah, I think it's going to save the planet."

The video ends with the NREL logo and the words, "National Renewable Energy Laboratory."