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Biology

Argonne maintains a wide-ranging science and technology portfolio that seeks to address complex challenges in interdisciplinary and innovative ways. Below is a list of all articles, highlights, profiles, projects, and organizations related specifically to biology.

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  • Transportation fuel and organic solid fertilizer from anaerobic digestion of wastewater solids and other organic wastes
    Intellectual Property Available to License
    US Patent 9,994,870
    • Method for generating methane from a carbonaceous feedstock

    The Innovation

    The biogas made from biosolids generated at wastewater treatment plants in the anaerobic digesters (ADs) contains high amounts of CO2 and hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and other gases as impurities that reduce its utility. H2S is corrosive at very low levels. In order to make biogas usable as a transportation fuel, its methane content must be enriched to the level found in natural gas by depleting CO2; and H2S levels must also be reduced. Researchers have made various previous attempts to separate CO2 in biogas production systems and thus enrich the methane content in biogas. However, among the disadvantages of this approach are that the H2S must be removed separately. Most of these methods are not economical, because post-production processing of biogas is required.

    Previously, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory had developed processes for in situ treatment of ADs to enrich the methane content in biogas to the levels found in natural gas. First, the Argonne researchers used pulverized rocks rich in CaCO3 and MgCO3 that sequesters the CO2 (background patent 8,247,009). The pulverized rocks were placed in the AD in removable mesh buckets. However, such rocks must be mined, pulverized, and transported, each of which adds costs.

    Argonne researchers next used a locally available agricultural by-product, biochar (charcoal), in the ADs and achieved reduction of both CO2 and H2S, with in situ sequestration of carbon, and methane enrichment of biogas to the pipeline-quality level of natural gas with >85% methane. Biochars from various sources perform similarly in methane enrichment in biogas. It is possible that some geographic regions may have biochar sources that may be functionally equivalent to the biochars used in Argonne studies and industrial-scale pilot testing.

    The biochar used thus far by Argonne is rich in divalent and monovalent cations, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, which has increased these cations in the digestate that can be used as organic solid fertilizer—leading to a significant revenue stream. Chemical analysis reveals that organic solid fertilizer is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and sulphur.

    Developmental Stage

    Pilot-scale process evaluation performed at a third-party site.

    Availability/Commercial Readiness

    Ready for development under a research partnership

  • A process for amorphous pharmaceuticals
    Intellectual Property Available to License
    US Patent 9,327,264 B2
    • Containerless synthesis of amorphous and nanophase organic materials

    The Invention 

    (a) Acoustic levitator levitating several samples simultaneously (shown as white spheres) with a 14mm spacing. Illustrations on

    Making fast-acting pharmaceuticals is a goal of almost every drug company. The route of delivering pharmaceuticals in the form of amorphous solids has long been recognized as a possible way to improve dissolution rates and to increase both solubility and bioavailability. Development in this direction is becoming increasingly important due to the emergence of many new drugs that are virtually insoluble in their crystalline form. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have developed the technique of acoustic levitation to prepare amorphous solids and molecular gels that can be easily applied to the pharmaceutical manufacturing process. This technique would improve the solubility and bioavailability of several drugs. 

    The acoustic levitation techniques developed at Argonne keeps the drug solution from making contact with any surface whatsoever during the solvent evaporation process. This containerless process was developed and tested on several over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. Several of the pharmaceuticals amorphized using the Argonne process remained completely amorphous for four months or longer. Please review the publication for additional details.

    Benefits 

    A containerless process: 

    • Precludes the possibility of a drug’s interaction with its container; 
    • Provides a more effective means of synthesizing amorphous pharmaceutical compounds; 
    • Offers higher yields than current state-of-the-art methods; 
    • Reduces the potential for contamination during the manufacturing process; and 
    • Is expected to advance the development of amorphous drug forms, increasingly important due to new drugs that are virtually insoluble in crystalline form.

    Applications and Industries 

    Pharmaceutical industry 

    Developmental Stage 

    Proof of principle