Cracking cellulose: step intobiofuels future

Cracking cellulose: a step into the biofuels future

3:38 AM, 5th September 2011
Cracking cellulose: a step into the biofuels future


HESLINGTON, UNITED KINGDOM: Scientists from the University of York have played a pivotal role in a discovery which could finally unlock the full potential of waste plant matter to replace oil as a fuel source.

Professor Paul Walton and Professor Gideon Davies, of the University’s Department of Chemistry, were part of an international team that has found a method to overcome the chemical intractability of cellulose, thus allowing it to be converted efficiently into bioethanol.

Working with scientists in Novozymes laboratories at Davis, California and Bagsvaerd, Denmark, as well as researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Cambridge, they identified the molecular mechanism behind an enzyme found in fungi which can degrade the cellulose chains of plant cell walls to release shorter sugars for biofuels.

This represents a major breakthrough as cellulose is the world’s most abundant biopolymer. Global generation of cellulose is equivalent in energy to 670 billion barrels of oil - some 20 times the current annual global oil consumption. The discovery opens the way for the industrial production of fuels and chemicals from plentiful and renewable cellulose in waste plant matter.

The research, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), removes the major constraint on the production of bioethanol from cellulose the stability of which had previously thwarted previous efforts to make effective use of it for biofuels.

The researchers found a way of initiating effective oxidative degeneration of cellulose using the copper-dependent TaGH61 enzyme to overcome the chemical inertness of the material.

Professor Davies said: “Cracking cellulose represents one of the principal industrial and biotechnological challenges of the 21st century. Industrial production of fuels and chemicals from this plentiful and renewable resource holds the potential to displace petroleum-based sources. Events at Fukushima and the continuing instability in major oil producing countries only highlight the need for a balanced energy portfolio.”

Professor Walton added: “This discovery opens up a major avenue in the continuing search for environmentally friendly and secure energy. The potential of bioethanol to make a major contribution to sustainable energy really now is a reality.”

Claus Crone Fuglsang, Managing Director at Novozymes’ research labs in Davis, California said: “Scientists have worked to figure out how to break down plant matter for the past 50-60 years. The impressive effect of GH61 was established a few years back and today it is a key feature of our Cellic CTec products. This discovery will continue to drive advances in production of other biobased chemicals and materials in the future.”

Leila Lo Leggio, Group Leader of the Biophysical Chemistry Group at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen said, “As a team of academic scientists, it is particularly rewarding when our basic research in the three-dimensional structure and chemistry of proteins also contributes to possible solutions for one of the major challenges our society is facing.”

Professor Paul Dupree of the University of Cambridge Bioenergy Initiative and Director of the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Cell Wall Sugars programme said, “Understanding the GH61 enzyme activity is one of the most significant recent advances in the area of biomass deconstruction and release of cell wall sugars.”

© University of York News




Your Comments (Up to 2000 characters)
Please respect our community and the integrity of its participants. WOC reserves the right to moderate and approve your comment.

Related News

Researchers expand miniature analyzer abilities for complex samples

GAITHERSBURG, US: It’s not often that someone can claim that going from a positive to a negative is a step forward, but that’s the case fo ...

Read more
Chemical research could help solve radioactive waste concerns

  READING, UNITED KINGDOM: The controversial problem of storing some of the most radioactive elements of nuclear waste could be close to being s ...

Read more
Linde to boost nitrogen production at Ohio air separation plant

MURRAY HILL, US: Linde North America, through one of its US affiliates, will upgrade its supply network in the US Midwest by significantly increasing ...

Read more
Huber expands calcium carbonate granulation capacity in US

ATLANTA, US: Huber Engineered Materials (HEM), a division of J M Huber Corporation, is expanding its Quincy, Illinois manufacturing operations to acco ...

Read more
BASF signs new rare earths long term contract with Lynas

  SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Lynas Corporation Limited has signed a new long term supply agreement with BASF Corporation for the supply of rare earths t ...

Read more
Brenntag acquires Multisol Group, specialty chemical distributor in UK

  · Brenntag acquires Multisol Group Ltd, the holding company of the Multisol Group which is engaged in the distribution of high val ...

Read more uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. X