Bacterial Biocatalysts for More Complete and Efficient Processing of Biomass

Technology #12617

Efficiently Converts Woody Biomass Into Ethanol and Chemical Feedstocks

These two different technologies relate to bacterial biocatalysts for conversion of biomass into biofuel such as ethanol and other valuable chemical feedstocks (e.g. lactic acid). Biocatalysts such as special strains of yeast and bacteria have been developed to produce commercial quantities of ethanol for fuel from starch and sucrose. However, these high quality carbohydrates are derived from commodity crops such as corn and sugarcane and diversion of these crops to ethanol production has reduced supplies for animal and human consumption and led to increased prices. To expand production of ethanol and bio-based products without impacting feed commodities, scientists have developed biocatalysts that are able to more efficiently utilize renewable non-food resources such as forest and agricultural residues. As much as 18 to 27 percent of the carbohydrate in cellulosic biomass cannot be fermented by currently available biocatalysts, which results in lower efficiency of conversion and a higher cost per unit of product produced. These biocatalysts will be particularly well suited to efficiently process evolving energy crops like poplar, switch grass, and energy cane. Researchers at the University of Florida have isolated a gram-negative bacterium that is very efficient in processing woody biomass as well as a unique gene cluster from a gram-positive bacterium that can be transferred to existing bacterial biocatalysts to increase the efficiency with which biomass is converted into fuel ethanol and chemicals.

Applications

More efficient and complete process for converting agricultural residues and energy crops into ethanol and chemical feedstocks

Advantages

  • Allows previously uneconomical biomass (e.g. forestry waste) to be efficiently utilized for conversion into products such as ethanol and other chemical feedstocks
  • Enables greater quantities of end product (e.g. ethanol) to be produced from the same amount of biomass, increasing output and profit
  • Contributes to efficient break-down of sugars and complex carbohydrates, reducing the cost of production of end product
  • Requires no large supplementary capital costs for more rapid return on technology investment

Technology

The need for renewable fuels in today’s economy is greater than ever. The market for renewable energy from biomass is growing and researchers at the University of Florida have made breakthroughs that will benefit this industry. The two different technologies can both be applied to improve efficiency of utilization of biomass. One of the technologies relates to a newly characterized bacterium that far more efficiently metabolizes one of the main components of woody (lignocellulosic) biomass. UF scientists have identified a compact cluster of genes in this bacterium that could be transferred to other bacteria to greatly improve their ability to ferment ethanol from woody biomass. The other technology relates to another newly characterized bacterium that could be used as the basis for a whole new family of biocatalysts based on its ability to more efficiently metabolize (and convert into useful products) a wider variety of sugars found in biomass than the existing biocatalysts based on either yeast or E. coli. These achievements are derived from collaborative efforts among several faculty in the Florida Center for Renewable Fuels and Chemicals at the University of Florida.



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