The collective goal at BSEL is to move science to industrial processes in a manner that improves energy security, reduces petroleum imports and decreases the impact of fuels on the environment. PNNL currently has approximately 60 issued and pending patents in the area of biobased processing (30 issued US patents, 19 issued in the last six years). These have resulted in ten commercial licenses and license options. This work has also resulted in one R&D 100 Award Presidential Green Chemistry Award, and provided the basis for creation of a new company.
BSEL opened May 2008 and the $24 million, 57,000-square-foot research and teaching laboratory is a partnership between WSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) operated by Battelle. BSEL features the Biorefinery and the Combinatorial Catalysis Research Lab, plus a variety of laboratories and classrooms. The facility establishes the Tri-Cities as a center for world-class bio-based product research and development, creates a magnet for prominent scientists, and helps the Northwest agriculture industry be more competitive.
While PNNL and WSU retain their separate entity, PNNL’s goal is to work synergistically developing and deploying sustainable biomass-based technologies that reduce our dependence on petroleum imports and improve energy security while reducing green house gas emissions. PNNL’s John Holladay, Ph.D. works closely with Professor Birgitte Ahring of WSU and is responsible for developing the strategy that directs PNNL’s research on sustainable production of bioproducts and biofuels.
An important part of the PNNL-WSU relationship is the organizations bring complementary strengths, allowing a true established synergy. PNNL brings expertise in thermal processing, catalysis and fungal biotechnology. WSU notable expertise includes pretreatment, thermophilic bacteria biotechnology and integration of technologies for second generation ethanol production. In addition, PNNL has a relationship with the Prosser USDA station who bring expertise in biomass production.
Bioresources can be more sustainable than traditional alternatives (focus on lignocellulosic wastes rather than food-chain crops). They are domestically produced and support the State’s agriculture economy, help reduce dependency on foreign energy, and support farmers and rural communities.
Faculty work with biofuels (oils, biodiesel, ethanol and other alcohols, diesel, gasoline, “crude oil”, biogas, syngas,), biochemicals (specialty chemicals such as enzymes, catalysts, proteins, paints, inks, surfactants, polymers, lubricants, solvents, plant-made pharmaceuticals), biomaterials (fiber products, lumber, leather, processed foods, laminates, roofing, plastics, insulation) and bioprocesses (biological, chemical and thermal conversion methods, improved process engineering).
BSEL features lignocellulosic bioethanol laboratories, high-pressure catalytic reactor rooms for hydrogenation and other chemical processing. It also has bioprocessing laboratories for developing and engineering fungal fermentations and supporting wet chemical laboratories for synthesis and preparation of catalysts and feedstocks. The Combinatorial Catalysis Research Laboratory, houses PNNL’s state-of-the-art, rapid-throughput catalyst discovery instrumentation, and the 2,500 square-foot high-bay facility for integration and scale-up of the various processing steps in bioproducts manufacture.