Biofuels and Bio-Based Chemicals Research

NREL's biofuels and bio-based chemicals research capabilities support development of industrially relevant, cost-competitive, and performance-advantaged fuels and chemicals from renewable and waste carbon sources.

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Our researchers strive to produce energy-dense biofuels that enable the decarbonization of heavy-duty truck, marine, and aviation sectors and bio-derived or bio-based chemicals manufactured with low-carbon intensity. The team leverages deep expertise in:

  • Genetic engineering and synthetic biology for targeted strain development in algae, bacteria, yeasts, and filamentous fungi
  • Fermentation science, catalytic conversion, and processing capabilities for a range of solid waste biomass, high-moisture, liquid, and gaseous wastes
  • Chemistry, biochemistry, and enzymology
  • Analytical sciences and characterization tools
  • Comprehensive techno-economic and life cycle analyses and resource assessments identifying key cost and sustainability drivers.

Advanced Algal Systems

Photosynthetic algae (comprising unicellular microalgae and macroalgae or seaweeds) use light, carbon dioxide, and fertilizer to create low-carbon-intensity biomass. Algae are studied both as a model system for higher-plant carbon storage and as a tunable chassis for production of lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins.

NREL investigates the potential of integrating carbon dioxide capture and electro-conversion technologies with algal biocatalysis, engineered enhancement of carbon utilization efficiency, and targeted strain development.

Catalytic Carbon Transformation

From thermal deconstruction and catalytic upgrading to computational modeling and operando catalyst characterization, NREL is developing innovative catalytic transformation strategies.

Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium

NREL is a leading member of the Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio), a consortium that harnesses the expertise of U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories and industry partners to study key challenges in catalysis for the conversion of renewable biomass and waste resources into fuels and chemicals.

Lignin Valorization

Deconstructing lignin, a heterogeneous aromatic polymer found in abundance in plant cell walls has been a long-standing challenge in biorefining. NREL researchers are developing new biorefining techniques, chemical and biochemical catalytic processes, and improved analytics and separations technologies for the lignin-first biorefinery. The goal is to enable production of transportation fuels such as sustainable aviation fuel from what has traditionally been a recalcitrant and difficult-to-valorize material.

Lignocellulosic Biomass Feedstock, Depolymerization, and Conversion

Focusing on preprocessing and deconstruction of terrestrial, aquatic, and waste lignocellulosic feedstocks to produce carbohydrate and lignin streams, our team leverages thermochemical and biological processes to upgrade these streams to fuels, chemicals, and biopower.

Agile BioFoundry Consortium

NREL is a key member of the Agile BioFoundry consortium, a collaboration with industry and national laboratories dedicated to accelerating biomanufacturing and decarbonizing the economy.

Feedstock-Conversion Interface Consortium

The NREL-led, U.S. Department of Energy multilaboratory Feedstock-Conversion Interface Consortium uses first-principles-based science to de-risk biorefinery scale-up and deployment by understanding, quantifying, and mitigating the impacts of feedstock variability on bioconversion processes.

Low-Carbon and Carbon-Negative Fuels and Chemicals

Resource assessment, waste valorization solutions, and the research and development needed to overcome compositional heterogeneity and upgrade gaseous and solid waste streams to fuels and chemicals are key research areas at NREL.

Our research seeks to improve the breakdown of organic wastes, sewage, and manure. The embedded carbon from these wastes is extracted and upgraded to hydrocarbon fuels such as sustainable aviation fuel. We also research and develop bacterial chassis to increase productivity and reduce costs of biochemical production of biohydrogen.

Our insights into resource and market potential, infrastructure requirements, and energy environmental justice can have positive impacts on the bioeconomy, including job creation.

How NREL's Biofuels and Bio-Based Chemical Capabilities Impact Our Economy

Explore how NREL research strengthens the bio-based fuels and chemicals industry.

Flagship Projects

These key collaborative research efforts enable the development of a sustainable bioeconomy:

Algae Technology Educational Consortium

Consortium for Computational Physics and Chemistry

Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization, and Verification Research

Algae Biotechnology Partnership

Scale-Up and Qualification of Net-Zero Sustainable Aviation Fuels From Wet Waste

Catalytic Upgrading of Pyrolysis Products for the Production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel Upgrading of C1 Building Blocks

Production of Low-Cost and Highly Fermentable Sugar From Corn Stover via Chemical-Recovery-Free Deacetylation and Mechanical Refining Process

Biohydrogen Consortium to Advance Fermentative Hydrogen Production

Electro-Enhanced Conversion of Wet Waste to Products Beyond Methane

ReSOURCE: The Carbon Negative Biorefinery of the Future.


Contact Bob Baldwin to leverage these capabilities and expertise or learn more about partnering with us.