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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, March 2016

March 02, 2016

ENERGY - Treating biofuel in situ ...

Breaking down cellulosic biomass for biofuel is a costly and complex process, requiring lots of acid, water, and heat. Experimental pretreatments, however, hold the promise of driving down these costs by making more biomass available to enzymes for fermentation. To gain a better understanding of why these experimental pretreatments work, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used the Titan supercomputer to gain molecular-level insight into the effectiveness of a pretreatment called Cosolvent Enhanced Lignocellulose Fractionation, or CELF, developed by the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center. The simulation results, published in Green Chemistry, provide context to scientists developing more effective techniques for the removal of lignin, a problematic molecule for biofuel production. The paper is available at!divAbstract. [Contact: Jonathan Hines, (865) 574-6944;]


Cutline: In pure water, lignin adopts a globular conformation (left) that aggregates on cellulose and blocks enzymes. In a THF-water cosolvent, lignin adopts coil conformations that are easier to remove during pretreatment. (ORNL image)

VEHICLES - Dandy app ...

Fuel economy data, sticker price, emissions information, safety ratings and much more is available at your fingertips with the latest Find-a-Car tool, an app designed specifically for easy searches on mobile devices., maintained by the Department of Energy with data from the Environmental Protection Agency, is credited with helping consumers save millions of gallons of fuel each year by enabling them to make more informed buying decisions. With this new app, users can personalize their results by specifying annual mileage, percentage of driving in stop-and-go traffic and local fuel costs. They can also compare multiple vehicles at a time and save car models in a "garage," where they are readily available. The app also has features unique to the mobile version, including the ability to scan the QR code on a car's fuel economy label. The app, developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the DOE Clean Cities Program, is available on the iTunes Store and Google Play. More information is available at [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: A new app developed at ORNL makes fuel economy and other information more readily accessible to car buyers.

BIOLOGY - Breaking the barrier ...

Researchers are making leaps in understanding how viruses invade healthy cells by using a combination of ORNL's Titan supercomputer and Spallation Neutron Source. An ORNL research team is simulating the lipid bilayer, or cell membrane, and verifying these simulations with experiments at SNS. In essence, this research is trying to prove the existence of lipid rafts--patches of the bilayer that may actively regulate which particles can enter a cell. The agreement between simulation and experiments sets the stage for researchers to simulate much larger systems and observe this phenomenon for longer periods of time. The paper, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, is available at: [Contact: Eric Gedenk, (865) 241-5497;]


Cutline: The Cheng research team is working to understand how different nanoscopic domains in lipids' bilayers regulate the mechanical properties of proteins passing in and out of the cell. (Image by Barmak Mostofian, John Nickels and Renee Manning)

ENERGY - Hot savings ...

People in cold climates who heat with electricity could realize savings of up to 70 percent with a new heat pump developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Emerson Climate Technologies. The tandem compressor system, developed through a cooperative research and development agreement, was effective at temperatures down to minus-13 degrees Fahrenheit without needing any supplemental resistance heat, according to the report led by Bo Shen of ORNL's Whole-Building and Community Integration group. Guided by ORNL's Heat Pump Design Model and EnergyPlus, the research team conducted an exhaustive technology survey to select energy-efficient and cost-effective components. A unit employing the chosen technology was field-tested at an occupied house in Ohio, where the homeowner realized savings of more than 40 percent compared to the baseline heat pump during a month with an average ambient temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]


Cutline: This prototype heat pump installed at the Ohio field test site in January 2015 produced savings of more than 40 percent compared to the baseline heat pump.
To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications staff member identified at the end of each tip. For more information on ORNL and its research and development activities, please refer to one of our media contacts. If you have a general media-related question or comment, you can send it to

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source.
Researchers produce biofuel for conventional diesel engines
In accordance with an EU directive, conventional automotive diesel is supplemented with seven percent biodiesel.
Insight into enzyme's 3-D structure could cut biofuel costs
Using neutron crystallography, a Los Alamos research team has mapped the three-dimensional structure of a protein that breaks down polysaccharides, such as the fibrous cellulose of grasses and woody plants, a finding that could help bring down the cost of creating biofuels.
Turning chicken poop and weeds into biofuel
Chicken is a favorite, inexpensive meat across the globe. But the bird's popularity results in a lot of waste that can pollute soil and water.
Turning biofuel waste into wealth in a single step
Lignin is a bulky chain of molecules found in wood and is usually discarded during biofuel production.
Biofuel production technique could reduce cost, antibiotics use
A new technique from MIT gives biofuel-producing microbes the upper hand against unwanted invaders.
Biological wizardry ferments carbon monoxide into biofuel
Cornell University biological engineers have deciphered the cellular strategy to make the biofuel ethanol, using an anaerobic microbe feeding on carbon monoxide -- a common industrial waste gas.
Chemistry lessons from bacteria may improve biofuel production
A new UW-Madison analysis of a group of bacteria called Streptomyces reveals the way some strains of the microbe developed advanced abilities to tear up cellulose, and points out more efficient ways we might mimic those abilities to make fuel from otherwise unusable plant material.
Weed stems ripe for biofuel
A weedy plant found on the roadside in northern Australia has stems ripe for biofuel production.
Turning human waste into next generation biofuel
Researchers affiliated with Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology have found a new way to convert human waste into renewable energy sources.

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