[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]
New hybrid sweetgum trees could boost paper, bioenergy production
July 14, 2016
Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) have crossed American sweetgums with their Chinese cousins, creating hybrid sweetgum trees that have a better growth rate and denser wood than natives, and can produce fiber year-round. The hybrid sweetgum trees have enormous potential for the production of bioenergy and paper, said Scott Merkle, a professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Sweetgum trees thrive under diverse conditions, grow as fast as pine trees and provide the type of fiber needed for specialty papers-and they’ve long been desired by paper and bioenergy producers. However, harvesting mature sweetgums can often be too costly or even ill-advised because they typically grow the best on the edges of swamps and in river bottoms, which are often inaccessible during the wet winter months.
Bochum team engineers artificial hydrogenase for hydrogen production; targeting foundation for industrial manufacturing
June 01, 2016
Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have engineered a hydrogen-producing enzyme in the test tube that works as efficiently as the original. The protein—a hydrogenase from green algae ( [FeFe]-hydrogenase HYDA1 from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii)—is made up of a protein scaffold and a cofactor.
The researchers have been investigating mechanisms of hydrogen biocatalysis for a number of years. In 2013, the team reported developing semi-synthetic hydrogenases by adding the protein’s biological precursor to a chemically synthesized inactive iron complex.
JBEI, UCSD scientists develop systems biology-based workflow to improve biofuels productivity
May 21, 2016
Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a workflow that integrates various “omics” data and genome-scale models to study the effects of biofuel production in a microbial host.
The development of omics technologies, such as metabolomics and proteomics, and systems biology have significantly enhanced the ability to understand biological phenomena. Nevertheless, the interpretation of large omics data into meaningful “knowledge” as well as the understanding of complex metabolic interactions in engineered microbes remains challenging. This new open-source workflow—which integrates various omics data and genome-scale models—drives the transition from vision to conception of a designed working phenotype.
New renewable hydrocarbon fuel pathway uses platform molecule acetoin produced by biomass fermentation
March 30, 2016
Researchers at Nanjing Tech University in China have developed a new pathway for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulose. The new Nanjing Tech process uses acetoin—a novel C4 platform molecule derived from new ABE (acetoin–butanol–ethanol)-type fermentation via metabolic engineering—as a bio-based building block for the production of the liquid hydrocarbon fuels.
In a paper published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry, the Nanjing Tech team reported producing a series of diesel or jet fuel range C9–C14 straight, branched, or cyclic alkanes in excellent yields by means of C–C coupling followed by hydrodeoxygenation reactions.
Biodiesel from engineered sugarcane more economical than from soybean
March 18, 2016
A techno-economic analysis by a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has determined that biodiesel produced from oil from genetically modified lipid-producing sugarcane (lipid-cane) is much more economical than biodiesel produced from soybean oil.
In their open-access paper, published in the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining, the researchers reported results showing that the biodiesel production cost from lipid-cane decreased from $0.89/L to $0.59 /L as the lipid content in the cane increased from 2 to 20%; this cost was lower than that obtained for soybeans ($1.08/L).
Berkeley Lab researchers devise new technique to reduce lignin and increase sugar yields; lowering biomass pretreatment costs
February 25, 2016
Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Joint BioEnergy Institute have devised a new strategy for reducing lignin in plants by modifying a key metabolic entrypoint for the synthesis of the most important lignin monomers.
The new technique, reported in an open-access paper in the journal Plant & Cell Physiology, could help lower the cost of converting biomass into lower carbon biofuels and bio-products.
Newly identified enzymes from herbivore gut fungi may lead to cheaper cellulosic biofuels
February 19, 2016
A team of researchers led by Dr. Michelle O’Malley at UC Santa Barbara has identified several promising new enzyme candidates for breaking down lignocellulsoic biomass for biofuel production from relatively unexplored gut fungi in herbivores. To do so, they developed a systems-level approach that integrates transcriptomic sequencing (RNA-Seq); proteomics; phenotype; and biochemical studies.
The biomass-degrading enzymes from the anaerobic gut fungi are competitive with optimized commercial enzyme preparations from Aspergillus and Trichoderma. Further, compared to the model platforms, the gut fungal enzymes are unbiased in substrate preference due to a wealth of xylan-degrading enzymes. The findings suggest that industry could modify the gut fungi so that they produce improved enzymes that will outperform the best available ones, potentially leading to cheaper biofuels and bio-based products. A paper on their work is published in the journal Science.
Wisconsin, GLBRC researchers use chemical genomics to engineer IL-resistant yeast to improve biofuel production
February 14, 2016
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and colleagues have engineered a new strain of the yeast S. cerevisiae that is more resistant to the toxic effects of ionic liquids (ILs) used to generate sugars from lignocellulose.
As a result, their xylose-converting strain consumed glucose and xylose faster and produced more ethanol than the wild type strain. The development could improve the efficiency of making fuel from cellulosic biomass such as switchgrass. The work is reported in an open-access paper in the journal Microbial Cell Factories.
NREL and BESC discovery explains higher biomass degrading activity of C. thermocellum; potential boon for cellulosic biofuels
February 06, 2016
Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have discovered a new cell-free cellulosomal system in Clostridium thermocellum—the most efficient single biomass degrader characterized to date —that is not tethered to the bacterial cell wall and is independent of the primary (tethered) cellulosomes.
Their discovery was made during an investigation into the performance of C. thermocellum. The scientists found the microorganism utilizes the common cellulase degradation mechanisms known today (free enzymes and scaffolded enzymes—i.e., a structured architecture of enzymes—attached to the cell), and a new category of scaffolded enzymes not attached to the cell. Reported in an open-access paper in Science Advances, the finding could lead to cheaper production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.
UCR team advances direct production of chemical and fuel precursors in yeast
January 28, 2016
A team led by a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has adapted the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system for use in a yeast strain that can produce useful lipids and polymers. The development will lead to new precursors for biofuels, specialty polymers, adhesives and fragrances.
Published recently in an open-access paper in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology, the research involves the oleaginous (oil-producing) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica, which is known for converting sugars to lipids and hydrocarbons that are difficult to make synthetically. Until now, Y. lipolytica has been hard to manipulate at the genetic level, but the application of CRISPR-Cas9 will change that, allowing scientists to tap into its bio-manufacturing potential.
BESC study finds unconventional bacteria could boost efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production
January 14, 2016
A new comparative study by researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, finds the natural abilities of unconventional bacteria could help boost the efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production.
A team of researchers from five institutions analyzed the ability of six microorganisms to solubilize potential bioenergy feedstocks such as switchgrass that have evolved strong defenses against biological and chemical attack. Solubilization prepares the plant feedstocks for subsequent fermentation and, ultimately, use as fuel.
Berkeley Lab team creates “cyborgian” hybrid artificial photosynthesis system; CO2 to acetic acid at high yield
January 05, 2016
Researchers at Berkeley Lab have induced the self-photosensitization of a nonphotosynthetic bacterium—Moorella thermoacetica—with cadmium sulfide nanoparticles (M. thermoacetica–CdS), enabling the photosynthesis of acetic acid from carbon dioxide.
Their hybrid approach combines the highly efficient light harvesting of inorganic semiconductors with the high specificity, low cost, and self-replication and -repair of biocatalysts. Biologically precipitated cadmium sulfide nanoparticles served as the light harvester to sustain cellular metabolism. This self-augmented biological system selectively produced acetic acid continuously over several days of light-dark cycles at relatively high quantum yields, demonstrating a self-replicating route toward solar-to-chemical CO2 reduction. A paper on their work is published in Science.
IU scientists create self-assembling biocatalyst for the production of hydrogen; modified hydrogenase in a virus shell
January 04, 2016
Scientists at Indiana University have created a highly efficient self-assembling biomaterial that catalyzes the formation of hydrogen. A modified hydrogenase enzyme that gains strength from being protected within the protein shell (capsid) of a bacterial virus, this new material is 150 times more efficient than the unaltered form of the enzyme.
The material is potentially far less expensive and more environmentally friendly to produce than other catalytic materials for hydrogen production. The process of creating the material was recently reported in the journal Nature Chemistry.
NREL team identifies major metabolic pathway in cyanobacteria for efficient conversion of CO2; better biofuels and bioproducts
December 12, 2015
Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have discovered that a metabolic pathway previously only suggested to be functional in photosynthetic organisms is actually a major pathway and can enable efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to organic compounds.
The discovery provides new insight into the complex metabolic network for carbon utilization in cyanobacteria, while opening the door to better ways of producing chemicals from carbon dioxide or plant biomass, rather than deriving them from petroleum.
New method for creating interspecies yeast hybrids could boost biofuels production
December 05, 2015
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a simple, robust, and efficient method for generating interspecies yeast hybrids. As reported in the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology, this method provides an efficient means for producing novel synthetic hybrids for beverage and biofuel production, as well as for constructing tetraploids to be used for basic research in evolutionary genetics and genome stability.
Some 500 years ago, the accidental natural hybridization of Saccharomyces cerevisiae—the yeast responsible for things like ale, wine and bread—and a distant yeast cousin gave rise to lager beer. Today, cold-brewed lager is the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage, fueling an industry with annual sales of more than $250 billion.
Aemetis harvests demo crop of optimized biomass sorghum in California for advanced biofuels; ~90 days from planting to harvest
October 05, 2015
Aemetis, Inc., an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company, has harvested 12- to 15-foot tall biomass sorghum grown in Central California that was produced using proprietary seed genetics from Nexsteppe, a provider of optimized sorghum feedstock solutions. Biomass Sorghum is a feedstock for low-carbon advanced biofuels.
The 20-acre demonstration crop of biomass sorghum was planted, grown, and harvested by Aemetis in approximately 90 days, validating the potential use of biomass crops for the production of lower-carbon, advanced biofuels or as a rotational crop in California.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln leading $13.5M effort to improve sorghum for biofuel
September 30, 2015
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will lead a $13.5-million, multi-institutional research effort to improve sorghum as a sustainable source for biofuel production.
Funded by the US Department of Energy, this five-year grant takes a comprehensive approach to better understand how plants and microbes interact, and to learn which sorghum germplasm grows better with less water and nitrogen. This research requires a range of expertise, and UNL is teaming with scientists at Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Boyce Thompson Institute, Clemson University, Iowa State University, Colorado State University and the DOE-Joint Genome Institute.
Gevo begins selling renewable isooctene to BCD Chemie; fuel applications
September 29, 2015
Gevo has begun selling renewable isooctene to BCD Chemie, a subsidiary of Brenntag. Initial orders in 2015 are expected to result in revenues to Gevo of more than $1 million. The isooctene will be produced at Gevo’s biorefinery in Silsbee, Texas, derived from isobutanol produced at Gevo’s plant in Luverne, Minn. Gevo’s biorefinery is operated in conjunction with South Hampton Resources.
BCD Chemie is targeting applications in Europe with Gevo’s isooctene. This commences a relationship with BCD Chemie that may include the marketing of other hydrocarbon products, including isooctane and jet fuel, and builds on Gevo’s existing partnership with Brenntag in Canada, which is currently selling Gevo’s isobutanol as a solvent in Canada.
Amyris in multi-year technology investment agreement with DARPA worth up to $35M
September 24, 2015
Amyris, Inc. announced a multi-year Technology Investment Agreement (TIA) worth up to $35 million with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Biological Technologies Office to create new research and development tools and technologies that will significantly reduce the time and cost of bringing new molecules to market. Amyris has chosen five specialized subcontractors to assist in achieving these innovations.
According to DARPA, its focus in working with industrial biotechnology companies is to solicit competitively “innovative proposals to develop new tools, technologies and methodologies” to create new capabilities in biotech. The tools and infrastructure developed through DARPA-funded efforts are expected to enable the rapid and scalable development of transformative defense-relevant products and systems that are currently too complex to access.
MSU researchers fabricate synthetic protein that streamlines carbon fixing machinery of cyanobacteria; potential boost for biofuels
September 22, 2015
Researchers at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, have fabricated a synthetic protein that not only improves the assembly of the carbon-fixing factory of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae), but also provides a proof of concept for a device that could potentially improve plant photosynthesis or be used to install new metabolic pathways in bacteria.
The multi-function protein, which the researchers compare to a Swiss Army Knife, streamlines the molecular machinery of cyanobacteria, making biofuels and other green chemical production from these organisms more viable. The researchers describe their work in a paper in the journal The Plant Cell.
DEINOVE and Tyton partner to combine bacterial fermentation solutions with energy tobacco feedstock for biofuels and bio-based chemicals
September 08, 2015
DEINOVE, a biotech company developing innovative processes for producing biofuels and bio-based chemicals using Deinococcus bacteria as host strains (earlier post), and Tyton BioEnergy Systems, an agricultural biotech company with novel tobacco technology used to produce green chemicals and agricultural products, have entered into a technology and commercialization partnership.
The main goal of the partnership is to combine Tyton’s energy tobacco feedstock, process and production infrastructure with DEINOVE’s Deinococcus-based fermentation solutions in order to produce green chemical compounds of high commercial value.
Tokyo Tech team engineers Nannochloropsis algae to boost oil production; method potentially applicable to other strains
Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and colleagues have engineered the Nannochloropsis algal strain NIES-2145 to enhance the production of fat-based molecules called triacylglycerols (TAGs), thereby increasing oil synthesis from the microalgae. The study’s results suggest that the specific gene promoter used in this work could also be applied across various algae to boost oil production. The paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Triacylglycerols, or TAGs, are a class of lipids which comprise glycerol attached to three fatty acid chains; microalgae is known to produce more TAGs under nutrient stress conditions. When the algal strain Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is starved of phosphorus, TAGs accumulate rapidly following the overexpression of an enzyme known as CrDGTT4, which in turn is triggered by gene promoter SQD2.
Global Bioenergies joins aireg to push jet fuel application of its isobutene process; isododecane
France-based Global Bioenergies, a company developing a processes to convert renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation, has joined aireg (Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany e.V.) aireg, an organization promoting the development and use of renewable liquid fuels in aviation, aims to replace 10% of German jet fuel demand with sustainable, alternative aviation fuels by 2025.
Global Bioenergies, which is currently developing its demonstration plant in Leuna, Germany, will soon be able to produce alternative jet fuel from sugars. Earlier this year, the company reported the successful conversion of renewable resources first into gaseous isobutene via fermentation, which was then subsequently catalytically oligomerized into a mix of fuel-range liquid hydrocarbons. (Earlier post.) The resulting product slate contained isooctane; isododecane (C12H26, a highly branched alkane well-suited for the aviation market); isocetane; as well as longer strings.
Berkeley Lab researchers advance hybrid bioinorganic approach to solar-to~chemicals conversion; 50% electrical-to-chemical, 10% solar-to-chemical efficiencies
August 25, 2015
A team of researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have hit a new milestone in their development of a hybrid bioinorganic system for solar-to-chemical energy conversion. (Earlier post.) The system first generates renewable hydrogen from water splitting using sustainable electrical and/or solar input and biocompatible inorganic catalysts. The hydrogen is then used by living cells as a source of reducing equivalents for conversion of CO2 to the value-added chemical product methane.
The system can achieve an electrical-to-chemical efficiency of better than 50% and a solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency of 10% if the system is coupled with state-of-art solar panel and electrolyzer, said Peidong Yang, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and one of the leaders of this study. A paper on their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Synbio company Intrexon and Dominion partner to commercialize bioconversion of natural gas to isobutanol in Marcellus and Utica Basins
August 20, 2015
Intrexon Energy Partners (IEP), a joint venture of synthetic biology company Intrexon Corporation and external investors (earlier post), and Dominion Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion Resources, have entered into an agreement to explore the potential for commercial-scale biological conversion of natural gas to isobutanol in the Marcellus and Utica Shale Basins.
Intrexon’s proprietary methanotroph bioconversion platform uses optimized microbial cell lines to convert natural gas into higher carbon compounds such as isobutanol and farnesene under ambient temperatures and pressures. This novel approach avoids costly, resource-intensive thermochemical gas-to-liquids (GTL) conversion methods, and offers a biofuel that does not utilize sugar or other plant-based feedstock.
PNNL study of metabolic processes paves way to optimize lipids production in yeast Y. lipolytica
Lipid-derived biofuels have been proposed as a promising substitute for fossil fuels. The oleaginous ascomycete (sac fungus) yeast Yarrowia lipolytica accumulates large amounts of lipids and has potential as a biofuel producing organism; however, little is known about the key biological processes involved. To address this gap in knowledge, a recent study by a team from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) identified and characterized major pathways involved in lipid accumulation from glucose in Y. lipolytica.
This study builds a platform for efforts to engineer the yeast to optimize lipid accumulation and maximize the yield of carbon-based products. Because lipids from Y. lipolytica have chemical properties similar to those of diesel fuel, they can be readily used as biodiesel using current vehicles and existing infrastructure at gas stations. Thus, harnessing lipids from Y. lipolytica could represent a practical approach for transitioning more quickly to a biofuel-based energy system.
Researchers modify camelina to produce highest levels yet in transgenic plant oil of novel lipid acetyl-TAG; biofuel and industrial use
August 18, 2015
Researchers at Kansas State University led by Professor Timothy Durrett and their colleagues at Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have engineered Camelina sativa—a non-food oilseed crop—to produce high levels (up to 85 mol%) of acetyl-triacylglycerols (acetyl-TAGs, or ac-TAGs)—a novel plant oil lipid with possible biofuel or industrial uses.
As reported in a paper in Plant Biotechnology Journal, this successful metabolic engineering and subsequent field production of the modified camelina crop marked the highest accumulation of the unusual oil achieved so far in transgenic plants. (Earlier work by Durrett and colleagues at the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center had resulted in approximately a 60 mol% accumulation of ac-TAGs.)
Researchers propose 2nd law of thermodynamics-based process to select and develop microorganisms for optimal biofuel production
August 17, 2015
Researchers at the University of Maryland are proposing a new process to isolate and to direct the evolution of microorganisms that convert cellulosic biomass or gaseous CO2 and H2 to biofuels such as ethanol, 1-butanol, butane, or hexane (among others).
The approach is based on the theory that fermentation systems drive toward thermodynamic equilibrium. Physical chemists, observe Richard Kohn and Seon-Woo Kim, both of the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, in their paper published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, have understood that all chemical reactions are controlled by either thermodynamic or kinetic mechanisms. With thermodynamic control, the feasibility of reactions and the availability of pathway branches depend on the second law of thermodynamics. This law governs whether or not a reaction can proceed spontaneously in the forward direction based on the concentrations of reactants and products.
U Georgia team discovers tungsten in novel bacterial enzyme; potential for cellulosic biofuels
August 16, 2015
A team at the University of Georgia, Athens led by Distinguished Research Professor Michael Adams has discovered tungsten in what appears to be a novel enzyme in the biomass-degrading thermophilic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor bescii. Tungsten is exceptionally rare in biological systems.
The researchers hypothesized that this new tungstoenzyme plays a key role in C. bescii’s primary metabolism, and its ability to convert plant biomass to simple fermentable sugars. This discovery could ultimately lead to commercially viable conversion of cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemical feedstocks. The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
DOE BESC engineered microbe improves biobutanol yield from cellulose by a factor of 10
August 14, 2015
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have engineered a microbe that improves isobutanol yields from cellulose by a factor of 10. The work, published in the journal Metabolic Engineering, builds on results from 2011 in which researchers reported on the first genetically engineered microbe to produce isobutanol directly from cellulose. (Earlier post.)
Isobutanol is attractive because its energy density and octane values are closer to those of gasoline; it is useful not only as a direct replacement for gasoline but also as a chemical feedstock for a variety of products. For example, isobutanol can be chemically upgraded into a hydrocarbon equivalent for jet fuel.
New one-pot process to produce gasoline-grade biofuel from the bacterial biopolymer PHB
August 09, 2015
A team from the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, University of Hawaii at Manoa is developing a new one-pot process to produce gasoline-grade (C6–C18) hydrocarbon oil from polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB)—an energy storage material formed from renewable feedstock in many bacterial species. In contrast to conventional biofuels derived from plant biomass, the resultant PHB oil has a high content of alkenes or aromatics, depending on the catalyst.
PHB has already been identified as having great potential as an intermediate in the production of hydrocarbon fuels. One approach, described by a team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Wang et al.), is thermally to depolymerize and decarboxylate PHB at 400 ˚C to propene, for subsequent upgrading to hydrocarbon fuels via commercial oligomerization technologies.
DOE JGI team identify regulators of lipid production in algae; potential boost for algal fuels development
August 04, 2015
Algae naturally produce oils that can be converted into transportation fuels, making this a potentially attractive pathway for large-scale biofuel production. However, high-yield lipid production in algae is a stress response—induced, for example, through conditions such as nutrient deprivation. One of the challenges of optimizing this oil production pathway has been stressing the algae just enough to produce lipids in high yields, but not stressing them enough to kill them.
Now, a team led by scientists from the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has analyzed the genes that are being activated during algal lipid production, and in particular the molecular machinery that orchestrates these gene activities inside the cell when it produces lipids. The work, published in a paper in the journal Nature Plants, may help algal bioenergy researchers develop more targeted approaches for producing lipids for fuels.
Researchers engineer first low-methane-emission, high-starch rice; benefits for GHG control, food and bioenergy
July 30, 2015
Rice—the staple food for more than half of the world’s population—is one of the largest manmade sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now, however, with the addition of a single gene from barley (SUSIBA2), a team of researchers in China, Sweden and the US has engineered a strain of rice—now named SUSIBA2—that can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane from its paddies during growth.
The new strain also delivers much more of the plant’s desired properties, such as starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production. SUSIBA2 rice is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution. A paper on the work is published in the journal Nature.