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Biosciences

The Biosciences Center, led by Center Director Richard Greene, is in NREL's Bioenergy Science and Technology directorate. Scientists in the center work to understand the function of biological systems that capture and convert energy in order to conceive and develop transformative technologies for the production of advanced biofuels, including hydrogen.

Biological systems that capture and convert energy collect the largest amount of solar radiation energy incident on the Earth's surface today. Photosynthetic organisms use photons to produce chemical energy at a rate of 100 terawatts—about 6 times greater than our present global energy consumption rate. Even the fossil fuels that presently meet most of our energy demands are the result of millions of years of biological activity.

Biological systems are extraordinarily successful in capturing and storing energy, in large part because they use abundant, inexpensive, and dilute resources—namely, sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. In addition, the biological properties of self-replication, self-repair, diversity and evolution introduce other important advantages. All of these characteristics support the assertion that energy conversion systems based on biology and biological principles will be a significant contributor to our energy solutions in the near and long term.

Our scientists conduct "use-inspired research" in a "use" environment, linking fundamental understanding of how biological systems assemble to control mass and energy flux to lay the foundations for transformative energy technologies. These systems include microbial, enzymatic, plant, chemical, and biohybrid and biomimetic systems. We benefit greatly from close interactions and collaborations with research colleagues both internal and external to NREL.

The center primarily works in two related areas in the biological conversion of solar energy into advanced biofuels:

  • Photobiology. The Photobiology Group focuses on understanding the capture of solar energy in photosynthetic systems and the conversion of that energy into hydrogen and into reduced carbon intermediates for hydrocarbon fuel production. Learn more.

  • Biomolecular Science. The Biomolecular Science Group is working on understanding the conversion of plant lignocellulosic biomass—which has already converted solar energy and carbon dioxide into plant cell walls—into sugar intermediates and subsequently into biofuels or biofuel precursors. Learn more.

For staff profiles, publications, and contact information, see the Biosciences staff page.