Technology 20 Manufacturing chemicals more affordably Electrolysis uses electricity to break chemical bonds, ideally getting more energy or valuable molecules out of the process. An INL research team is devising numerous innovations that could tip the equation — yielding high-value products from low- value inputs. In each case, the advances make these processes efficient at far lower temperatures than have been achieved before. As a result, less energy input is required, operations are more durable and large-scale implementation is more affordable. In one case, the team can efficiently produce hydrogen from steam at less than 600 degrees C. Another works at 400 degrees C to convert ethane, a major component of natural gas liquids, to ethylene, a valuable precursor for industrial petrochemicals. This LoTempLene technology was a finalist in the 2018 Idaho Innovation Awards Early- Stage Innovation of the Year category. The team also demonstrated direct conversion of carbon (such as coal or biomass) into electricity at reduced temperatures. Bioleaching rare earth elements The scarcity of domestic rare earth elements (REEs) leaves manufacturers of everything from cellphones to wind turbines vulnerable to supply disruptions. INL researchers developed an economic way to recycle REEs using a bacterium. The microbe produces organic acids that dissolve REEs from the surrounding material and pulls them into solution — a process called “bioleaching.” Overall, bioleaching results in fewer environmental impacts than conventional techniques used to recover REEs, which typically involve high heat, high pressure and harsh chemicals. The research was highlighted by the Daily Beast website, which claims to reach 1 million readers per day. INNOVATION & DEPLOYMENT Dong Ding shows woven ceramic electrode, which is the key to improving efficiency in several new electrochemical processing technologies.