DOE's ORNL launches one-stop shop biofuels website

By Kris Bevill | February 08, 2011

The U.S. DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has launched a new interactive website meant to integrate a wide variety of data and resources related to bioenergy in an attempt to provide a holistic view of bioenergy and inspire collaboration among industry experts. According to ORNL representatives, the DOE's incentive to create the site stemmed from the realization that while a significant amount of money is being spent on generating data related to bioenergy, a relatively insignificant amount of funding has been allocated toward sharing that data. The new website is an effort to begin sharing data and answering questions related to the future of bioenergy.

The Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework allows users to access everything from reports and technical data to lists of experts and locations of biorefineries and ethanol fueling stations, said Budhendra Bhaduri, ORNL’s principal investigator of the project. “This new tool connects data, knowledge and people in what we expect will become a catalyst that allows interested parties to come together and accelerate the process of developing homegrown, sustainable and plentiful biofuels,” he said.

The KDF is expected to be useful for policymakers, industry members, scientists and engineers, and consumers. Members of the biofuels industry can use the site to identify feedstock production potential, energy demand patterns, available infrastructure to develop market strategies and identify bioenergy business opportunities, according to ORNL. Questions explored within KDF include agricultural production, fuel production, technical and scale-up challenges, production and distribution logistics, economics, impacts on communities and consumers, the sustainability of bioenergy and environmental, social and political impacts.

The site offers upload/download capabilities, which allow users to share their data, access data other groups have put together and, in some cases, provide edits to the data. Users who upload data are able to establish permission groups in order to restrict access and edits to their data. However, the system is designed to improve with user-generated data and feedback, according to ORNL representatives, who likened the system’s feedback and data editing features to product review features on online shopping sites. Users of those sites are not paid to provide feedback but are inspired to comment because they think it will be helpful to other users and believe that comments from others could help guide their decisions in the future. The same philosophy applies to sharing data on this site, according to ORNL. Data uploaded to the website will be validated on a case-by-case basis by ORNL but the user community will be looked upon to validate each other as well. In that aspect, ORNL is employing a strategy similar to social networking sites, suggesting that if KDF users find data that they don’t agree with they should provide feedback or upload their own differing data.

Users are required to request access to the site before they are allowed to view data. This step is mostly a bookkeeping feature, according to ORNL, but also serves as a way to track its users and as a step to prevent “potentially unsavory characters” from accessing information, according to an ORNL spokeswoman.

ORNL is continuing to develop features for the newly launched website and encourages users to provide feedback to better the system.