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Category Archives: 2012 Spotlights

Cong Trinh

Profitable Metabolic Detours – Cong Trinh

Cong Trinh’s research advances biofuel production.
Most of us understand metabolism as the process living organisms go through to consume nourishment and survive. The series of steps taken from food consumption to growth to reproduction are called metabolic pathways. Nature creates a network of these pathways, Cong Trinh says, and organisms have multiple routes from which to choose. “On their own they won’t expend energy taking a more difficult pathway, but they can be redesigned to use atypical pathways and, as a result, yield valuable end products.” Trinh and ORNL’s Adam Guss are re-engineering two separate microorganisms to use pathways that will convert biomass into an array of biofuels and other biochemicals. Read More…

Gajanan Bhat

Protective Coating – Gajanan Bhat

Gajanan Bhat’s research develops the filters of tomorrow.
In the bioenergy arena, harsh conditions affect the pretreatment (filtering) of biomass. ORNL’s Ramesh Bhave has an idea for a filter that would make biomass more immediately available to biochemical conversion and, in the process, increase the yield of sugars and other chemicals of value. Gajanan Bhat’s team is developing a protective coating for the new filtration membrane—one that will prevent deposits from fouling the membrane with material that can only be removed by expensive chemical cleansing. “Our challenge,” Bhat says, “is to make a coating that keeps the filter’s surface free of debris and the nanopores open.” Read More…

Qiang He

Biomass Digesters – Qiang He

Qiang He’s research makes developing biofuels more efficient.
Researchers get ideas from all sorts of places. For Qiang He, the inspiration began inside the stomach of a cow. Where better to look for microbes capable of decomposing switchgrass for biofuel production than in the gut of grazing ruminants? The problem of identifying effective decomposing microorganisms remains key to developing efficient cellulosic biofuel processing techniques. But mimicking the natural host-microbe relationships in industrial settings is too complex to be realistic. So, rather than looking inside the cow, He studies the anaerobic digestion of cow manure as a source of unexplored microbial communities capable of decomposing residual plant material. Read More…

I Experiment, Therefore I Compute – David Keffer

David Keffer’s research helps scientists optimize their experiments.
In the brave new world of scientific computation and simulation, it can often seem as though the experiment never ends. Experiments feed data to computation, which, in turn, offers back structure and analysis. The results are models that can be compared with laboratory findings to validate and fine-tune continuing experimentation—all toward the goal of rapidly optimizing performance and accelerating progress. David Keffer has become well versed in this multiscale modeling process. And now, his team applies their high-performance tool kit to understand the fundamental relationship between nanostructure and lithium-ion conductivity in lignin-based carbon fiber anodes. Read More…

Steven Wilhelm

Troubled Waters – Steven Wilhelm

Steven Wilhelm’s research protects freshwater resources.
In the long list of worries that life entails, the availability of clean fresh water should be right up there. And yet, although we may vaguely suspect that our waters are “troubled” from time to time, it seems to be natural for us to assume that nature will somehow take care of them for us, no matter what. Wrong. Steven Wilhelm and his team add High-Throughput Transcriptomics to the arsenal of tools that tells us more about algal blooms, why there has been such an alarming increase in degradation of fresh waters in recent decades, and what we can do about it. Read More…

Aerial View of Lights

Power Flows – Husheng Li

Husheng Li’s research moves electricity more smartly across the grid.
Controlling how power flows is as important as producing it in the first place. Husheng Li and his team are designing a wireless communication network to add “nerves” to “muscles” for controlling distributed energy resources in the smart grid. Planned to be flexible, reliable, “plug-and-play,” and self-healing, the design of the communication network will be field tested in the Distributed Equipment Communication and Control laboratory at ORNL. Li’s goal is to render microgrid power flow controls more robust and efficient. Read More…

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