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Biochemical Conversion Projects

A photo of a woman looking at the underside of a clear plastic tray. The tray has a grid of small holes to hold sample tubes.

An NREL researcher examines a sample tray used in the BioScreen C, an instrument used to monitor the growth of microorganisms under different conditions.

NREL's projects in biochemical conversion involve three basic steps to convert biomass feedstocks to fuels:

  1. Converting biomass to sugar or other fermentation feedstock
  2. Fermenting these biomass intermediates using biocatalysts (microorganisms including yeast and bacteria)
  3. Processing the fermentation product to yield fuel-grade ethanol and other fuels.

Among the current biochemical conversion RD&D projects at NREL are:

  • Pretreatment and Enzymatic Hydrolysis
    NREL is investigating pretreatment processes to decrease the costs and increase sugar yields by making the cellulosic and hemicellulosic biomass more easily digestible by enzymes.

  • Bioprocess Integration
    Researchers are refining a hydrolyzate conditioning step to remove toxins following pretreatment while minimizing sugar loss. Solid-liquid separation and additional operations required to integrate conditioning into the overall process are under development.

  • Biochemical Platform Analysis
    This task provides process design and economic analysis of much of the biochemical conversion research at NREL. It supports research in pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis, process integration, feedstock/process interface, and targeted conversion research. Partner: Environmental Protection Agency.

Learn about biochemical conversion capabilities.