Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have opened a new laboratory that will focus on biomass research.

Washington State University (WSU) and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) dedicated a new building for the advancement of biomass research.

At the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL), WSU and PNNL will work together to develop solutions to some of the nation’s largest energy problems, strengthen opportunities to move technology into industry, and provide students with a hands-on educational experience. The new $24.8 million facility is located on the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland, Wash.

At the new laboratory, researchers are expected to create a portfolio of bio-based products and fuels that may reduce the nation's dependence on foreign petroleum and carbon footprint of energy use. Researchers will focus on biofuels that are more efficient to produce and more compatible with the existing fuels infrastructure than current biofuels. The research will advance conversion technologies that can be used with a variety of feedstocks, including non-edible cellulosic biomass and crops specifically grown for fuel.

The research at BSEL will address the specific goals of developing:
  • Biochemical conversions of cellulosic biomass to ethanol
  • Thermochemical conversions, including gasification and catalytic conversions, of cellulosic biomass to ethanol
  • Thermochemical conversions, including pyrolysis and catalytic conversions of cellulosic biomass to a potential crude oil replacement called hydrotreated pyrolysis oil that can be further refined to create diesel and gasoline in an existing petroleum refinery providing direct diesel and gasoline replacements
“Cellulosic ethanol is a critical component of the President's comprehensive strategy to diversify our nation's energy sources in a sustainable manner, enhance energy security and address the serious challenge of global climate change," said Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "BSEL's work to develop and deploy clean and affordable renewable fuels will prove pivotal as the Bush Administration works aggressively to mitigate climate change and meet the rapidly growing demand for energy.”

A key objective of BSEL is to facilitate the transition of new technologies from the laboratory to commercial deployment. BSEL includes a high-bay facility that will enable researchers to test new concepts close to industrial scale, increasing commercialization potential.

Construction of BSEL was funded by Washington State University's higher education construction budget and a 20-year lease agreement between WSU and Battelle, which operates Richland, Wash.-based PNNL for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is the primary sponsor of PNNL's biomass research taking place in BSEL.