A new group within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Bioenergy Center, aims to foster development of bioenergy as a globally competitive, environmentally friendly technology that will also generate significant income for American farmers. Based in the department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this "virtual" center will provide industries with access to bioenergy research and laboratory facilities at federal agencies. The center should help the U.S. move closer to President Clinton's goal of tripling the domestic use of bioenergy and bioproducts by 2010. Bioenergy is the conversion of biomass, either from plants or plant byproducts, into liquid fuels, electricity, or chemical byproducts that are currently made from petroleum. The substitution of biomass-based energy sources for petroleum-based sources could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 100 million tons a year, according to the DOE.
A measurement technique crafted by scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory uses a unique transmission electron microscope to detect material defects with picometer accuracy. According to the lab, this unprecedented level of precision could pave the way for the development of better semiconductor and superconductor materials. Known as interferometry in coherent electron diffraction, the technique exploits two characteristics of electron microscopy, small probe size and high spatial resolution, to study a very tiny section of material. With Brookhaven's technique, electrons from a coherent source of light hit the material sample from different directions and form particular interference patterns. These patterns can then be observed by a detector, providing results that scientists can interpret to measure material defects. For details, see the Dec. 11, 2000, issue of Physical Review Letters, or visit www.bnl.gov.