Converting Feedstocks into Biofuels

The Department of Energy is committing more than $1.7 million to help Argonne National Laboratory and research partners move multiple promising energy technologies to the marketplace.

The five Argonne-associated projects are:

Application of Resin-Wafer Electrodeionization Technology in Biorefineries ($600,000; in partnership with ZeaChem, Inc., Lakewood, Colo.)

Argonne and ZeaChem will work to improve the processing of biomass-based feedstocks into biofuels and chemicals.  A team led by Argonne chemical engineer YuPo Lin and biochemical engineer Seth Snyder developed the resin wafer electrodeionization (rwedi) technology, a process for producing clean energy that is cost-effective and reduces waste and energy use.

Argonne’s patented technology allows for the efficient separation of salts and acids from aqueous streams. Typically, these separations require neutralizing agents; the Argonne process uses electricity instead.

ZeaChem is developing biorefineries to commercialize production of cellulosic biofuels and renewable chemicals by bacterial fermentation technology. In the collaboration with Argonne, ZeaChem will use rwedi in its pilot-scale facility to clean up the cellulosic sugars that are fed to the fermenter and to recover the renewable chemical products from the fermenter.

“The implications of rwedi are exciting,” Snyder said. “Commercial production of cellulosic biofuels and renewable chemicals could decrease our carbon emissions while creating U.S. manufacturing jobs.”

The goal of the project is to obtain pilot-scale process performance so that ZeaChem can evaluate whether rwedi helps the company achieve its commercial targets.

Ultrathin Nanoparticle Membranes to Remove Emerging Hydrophobic Trace Organic Compounds in Water($150,000; in partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency raises grave concerns over organic contaminants in coastal waters. In particular, emerging trace organic contaminants (TrOCs) in the water supply present a tremendous challenge for water treatment because the existing technologies to remove them are not cost-effective.

The goal of the collaboration with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is to create a prototype membrane device with an engineered molecular coating capable of removing TrOCs in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Argonne, in collaboration with the University of Chicago, has recently developed ultrathin nanoparticle-based membranes with robust mechanical properties. Compared with commercial filters, these new types of filters have the potential to operate at low applied pressure with minimum energy consumption.

“We are excited that the grant will allow us to develop a new type of nanomaterial-based filtration membrane, completely different from the traditional polymer-based systems, to solve a challenging problem in water filtration,” said Xiao-Min Lin, an Argonne nanoscientist and a lead researcher on the project.

Advanced Manufacturing of Ultra-High-Density Interposers ($250,000; in partnership with the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research, Osceola County, Fla.)

The collaboration between Argonne and the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR) will be aimed at improving device connections in systems needed to produce the next generation of sensors. The work will focus on silicon interposers, a critical component for electrically connecting the multiple integrated circuits needed to make sensors with many functions.

ICAMR will contribute tools and facilities to conduct the research, including work at its state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility set to open next spring in Osceola County, Fla.

Graphene Coating for Dry Gas Seal Applications ($579,852; in partnership with John Crane Inc., Morton Grove, Ill.)

Argonne and John Crane Inc. will jointly develop an industrial-scale process for forming superlubric coatings based on a graphene-nanodiamond solution.

The technology will be applied to the dry gas seals of gas compressors and similar equipment, thereby reducing friction in the seals and reducing the leakage of toxic and greenhouse gases through worn seals.

“Industries are always interested in path-breaking ideas coming from national labs, but they don’t necessarily have enough funds to invest to take it to the next level,” said Argonne nanoscientist Anirudha Sumant, a lead researcher on the project. “This DOE program is an excellent vehicle to bridge this gap.”

By improving the reliability of sealing systems, there is considerable opportunity to decrease emissions associated with seal failures, reduce maintenance costs and improve productivity.

“This collaboration will propel gas-sealing technology to a new platform,” said Ali Erdemir, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow and a lead researcher on the project.

UNCD-Based Electron Field Emission Source for Accelerator Applications ($150,000; in partnership with Euclid TechLabs, Gaithersburg, Md.)

Many of the synchrotron facilities around the world — which operate 24/7 — have very complicated and time-consuming procedures for replacing electron sources when they fail, making a long time between failures highly desirable. It is also highly desirable that these electron sources can consume less power, work for a longer duration and withstand variation in vacuum environment without reducing performance.

In this project, Argonne and Euclid TechLabs will develop an electron source based on field emission from nitrogen-incorporated ultrananocrystalline diamond, or (N)UNCD. A collateral aspect of this funding and development will be the commercial availability of UNCD-based electron sources for other high-value commercial applications, including electron microscopy and space propulsion systems.

 

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The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recently launched Lab-Corps, an intensive entrepreneurial boot camp designed to help scientists transition their research to the market. 

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