The ailing United States’ economy would receive a much needed boost with the commercial development of a domestic source of transportation fuel – especially if that fuel were to be clean, green and renewable, and could replace gasoline on a gallon-for gallon basis in today’s engines and infrastructures. Helping to make that dream come true is the mission of the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), which officially opened for business by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
The ABPDU is a 15,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility, located in Emeryville, California, designed to help expedite the commercialization of advanced next-generation biofuels by providing industry-scale test beds for discoveries made in the laboratory. Derived from cellulosic biomass not used as a food or feed source, these advanced biofuels represent a job-creating industry that would significantly reduce our nation’s dependence on imported oil. As a further benefit, the combustion of these fuels is “carbon-neutral,” meaning their use does not contribute to an increase in greenhouse gases.
“The Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit will serve the efforts of major biofuels research across the nation – including the Bioenergy Research Centers in the DOE Office of Science,” said Berkeley Lab director Paul Alivisatos when it was announced in March 2010, that Berkeley Lab would receive a $20 million grant from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “The establishment by EERE of this facility at Berkeley Lab, a DOE Office of Science national laboratory, reflects a new spirit of cooperation between the DOE technology and science programs. Berkeley Lab is proud to play its part.”
Berkeley Lab’s ABPDU will feature pre-treatment of biomass capabilities and bioreactors for the production of microbial or fungal enzymes that can break down biomass into fermentable sugars. The facility will also have substantial capabilities for fermentation or further conversion of sugars into advanced biofuels, along with the capacity to purify these fuels.
Under the terms of the EERE award, Berkeley Lab is slotted to receive an additional $3 million a year to operate the ABPDU whose capabilities will be available to a broad variety of institutions and organizations, both within and outside of DOE, that are involved in biofuels research and development.
Berkeley Lab’s ABPDU can convert biomass into advanced biofuels in sufficient quantities for engine testing.
Transportation represents the largest end-use of energy by sector in the U.S. and studies have shown that advanced biofuels would be an ideal alternative to petroleum-based fuels if a cost-effective means of commercial production can be developed. Advanced biofuels, as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act, are renewable fuels – other than ethanol derived from corn starch – with at least 50 percent less lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they replace.
“Berkeley Lab has a history of bringing scientific solutions to some of the toughest questions concerning energy, and the mission of the ABPDU is consistent with that history,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director Horst Simon in his remarks at the ABPDU ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The opening day ceremony began with introductory remarks by Harvey Blanch, one of the country’s deans of biofuels research who serves as the principal investigator of the ABPDU.
“With the opening of the ABPDU we have vastly improved our capacity to test new innovative approaches to the production of advance biofuels on a larger, integrated scale,” Blanch said.
In his remarks, Jay Keasling, Berkeley Lab’s Associate Director for Biosciences, noted that the design capacity of the ABPDU is 45-to-90 kilograms/day for biomass pretreatment and 11-to-20 liters per day for biofuels production. These quantities are sufficient for engine testing.
“Scaling the production of advanced biofuels from liter quantities to tens of liters can be a huge challenge,” Keasling said “The ABPDU will help us meet that challenge.”
Major use of the ABPDU is expected to be made by researchers with DOE’s three Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs).
“One of the major missions of the BRCs is to see that scientific advances are translated into commercially viable technologies, as the rapid transfer of laboratory discoveries to the marketplace is crucial to solving the nation’s most pressing challenges in energy and the environment,” says Keasling, who also serves as CEO for one of the BRCs, the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). “The ABPDU will be an important contributor to this national effort.”
Paul Bryan, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, cut the ribbon to open the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit. (Photo by Michael Barnes)In addition to its role in demonstrating the viability of proposed biofuels production technologies, the ABPDU will also serve the interests of basic research in the key new scientific fields of biotechnology.
“The ABPDU provides a significant capability to test how synthetic biological solutions to manufacture of fuels and other important chemicals might scale beyond the laboratory shake flask,” said Adam Arkin, director of Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, which oversees ABPDU operations. “It allows our researchers to be better informed of the bottle necks in the translation of their work into impact on the real world problem. We hope this is the first in a series of application and technology prototyping resources we will create at Berkeley Lab to support our biological assessment and design efforts.”
Berkeley Lab’s ABPDU is operated with funds from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy through its Office of the Biomass Program. The ABPDU also received $20 million in funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony and presenting remarks were Paul Bryan, Program Manager for EERE’s Biomass Program, and Aundra Richards, manager of the DOE Office of Science Berkeley Site Office, which oversees Berkeley Lab. Statements of support were also presented on behalf of U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, California Assembly member Nancy Skinner and California State Senate member Loni Hancock.