The current focus on the development and implementation of clean, renewable replacements for fossil fuels rivals technological challenges of recent decades, such as the Moon Race and the Human Genome Project. In order to remain globally competitive, we must diversify our energy portfolio to take advantage of diverse and geographically heterogeneous resources, including solar, wind, geothermal, and a variety of biochemical resources. Of these, only plant-derived biomass offers the immediate potential to provide liquid transportation fuels compatible with our extant distribution infrastructure. Currently, the major sources of plant-derived biofuels are valuable foodstuffs such as corn kernels and cane sugar, which are converted by microbial fermentation to bioethanol, first-generation biofuels. However, a variety of limitations have mandated greater emphasis on second-generation biofuels from abundant lignocellulosic feedstocks. The major technological hurdle to second-generation biofuels is the difficulty in efficiently converting structurally complex lignocellulose feedstocks to fermentable sugars or directly to biofuels. Our project addresses this limitation by focusing on novel thermophilic (heat-loving) microorganisms and enzymes with the goal of decreasing the energy and water demands of this process. Our research aims to understand what microorganisms are involved in degrading lignocellulosic feedstocks at high temperature and to isolate and characterize novel cellulolytic thermophiles that may be useful for biofuels applications.
This work is possible through collaborations with Lucigen Corporation, and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute . Generous funding is provided by the Department of Energy (DOE).
This work is intended to advance our understanding of the natural decay of plant material at high temperature and to discover microorganisms and enzymes that may be useful for biofuels technologies.
- Cellulolytic Thermophiles
A novel filamentous microorganism that degrades cellulose at high temperature.