Biology offers an extraordinary source of molecules and inspiration for the development of new energy-related materials, devices, and processes. One BES research direction is mimicking biology’s energy efficient synthesis approaches to generate new, advanced materials for use under harsher, nonbiological conditions. Another is developing new bio-inspired materials that assemble autonomously and dynamically and can self-repair. In addition to inspiring new materials, understanding biology, in particular photosynthesis, can lead to new photochemistry and biochemistry approaches to photoconversion and to processes beyond primary photosynthesis, such as catalysis and biosynthesis of value-added products. Because the major repository of solar energy resides in plant cell walls, research includes the development of a greater understanding of plant and microbial cell-wall architecture at the molecular level–knowledge required for catalytic conversion of biomass into chemical fuels. Understanding biomass and its efficient conversion to fuels and other value-added products is also a major goal of industry and other government agencies, such as the DOE Office of Biology and Environmental Research (BER) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). ORNL is host to a BER Bioenergy Research Center called the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC).
Research in the biosciences at ORNL directly addresses these three challenges:
- How do we design and perfect atom- and energy-efficient sythesis of revolutionary new forms of matter with tailored properties?
- How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from complex correlations of the atomic or electronic constituents, and how can we control these properties?
- How can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things?