WSU Tri-Cities

Bioproducts, Sciences & Engineering Laboratory

PNNL Partnership

Relationship between Washington State University (WSU) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

While PNNL and WSU retain their separate entity, PNNL’s goal is to work synergistically developing and deploying sustainable biomass-based technologies that reduce our dependence on petroleum imports and improve energy security while reducing green house gas emissions. PNNL’s John Holladay, Ph.D. works closely with Professor Birgitte Ahring of WSU and is responsible for developing the strategy that directs PNNL’s research on sustainable production of bioproducts and biofuels.

The way PNNL and WSU work together is through joint appointments and joint research projects. PNNL is in the process of establishing the first joint appointments, and have submitted numerous joint proposals to DOE, USDA and NSF and started the first joint project.

An important part of the PNNL-WSU relationship is the organizations bring complementary strengths, allowing a true established synergy. PNNL brings expertise in thermal processing, catalysis and fungal biotechnology. WSU notable expertise includes pretreatment, thermophilic bacteria biotechnology and integration of technologies for second generation ethanol production. In addition, PNNL has a relationship with the Prosser USDA station who bring expertise in biomass production.

PNNL Staff and Equipment at BSEL

PNNL currently houses over 50 staff in BSEL. Approximately one dozen of the staff have been hired this last year. Other staff members moved to BSEL from PNNL’s main campus situated approximately one mile north of the WSU Campus. In addition to moving staff, approximately $9 million of research equipment was moved, of which approximately $5 million was purchased using DOE-EERE funds. An additional $3.3 million of capital equipment is in the process of being purchased now, also using DOE-EERE funds. The capital equipment supports two important research areas: system biology efforts which include proteomics and genomic capability; and catalyst development efforts including state-of-the-art combinatorial high-throughput catalyst development tools designed for bioprocessing. In both of these research areas PNNL leverage the tools at BSEL with the tools at PNNL’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), an Office of Science user facility located on the main research campus of PNNL.


Strong relationships are a key feature in PNNL’s BSEL research agenda. In addition to the relationship between PNNL and WSU, PNNL has strong industrial relationships including long-standing R&D partnerships with major bio-products companies (ADM, Cargill, Novozymes, Mead-Westvaco, Weyerhaeuser) and major chemical/energy/technology companies (UOP, Conoco-Phillips, Petronas) to name a few.

National laboratory relationships include current projects with National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Joint Genome Institute (JGI). Additional projects/concepts are being developed with Oakridge National laboratory (ORNL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).


The collective goal at BSEL is to move science to industrial processes in a manner that improves energy security, reduces petroleum imports and decreases the impact of fuels on the environment. PNNL currently has approximately 60 issued and pending patents in the area of biobased processing (30 issued US patents, 19 issued in the last six years). These have resulted in ten commercial licenses and license options. This work has also resulted in one R&D 100 Award Presidential Green Chemistry Award, and provided the basis for creation of a new company.

Partnership Contacts:

Birgitte K. Ahring, Ph.D.  509-372-7682
John Holladay, Ph.D.  509-375-2025