Donate to Science & Enterprise

S&E on Mastodon

S&E on LinkedIn

S&E on Flipboard

Please share Science & Enterprise

Improved Cellulose Processing Developed for Biofuels

Corn stover in bales (ARS/USDA)

(Agricultural Research Service/USDA)

A team of university and industry researchers in Europe and the U.S.  have developed a process to hasten the breakdown of cellulose in waste plant matter for conversion to ethanol. Their findings appear online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists with the company Novozymes in Davis, California, and Bagsvaerd, Denmark, working with researchers at the universities of Copenhagen, Cambridge, and York identified the molecular mechanism behind an enzyme found in fungi that can degrade the cellulose chains of plant cell walls to release shorter sugars for biofuels. The authors say their discovery makes possible the industrial production of fuels and chemicals from cellulose, an abundant raw material in waste plant matter.

The enzyme, known as GH61, can overcome the previous chemical intertness of cellulose. The recent genomic sequencing of the brown rot fungi Postia placenta showed the organism has a number of GH61 genes, indicating the widespread nature of this family of enzymes in cellulose degradation.

The researchers found a way of initiating oxidative degeneration of cellulose, using a form of GH61. By using electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and X-ray analysis, the researchers revealed GH61 contains a type of copper. The presence of copper provided the missing ingredient in understanding the process needed to degenerate cellulose into the sugars for biofuel production.

Novozymes has staked much of its cellulosic biofuels development on its Cellic process, based in part of GH61 enzymes. Claus Crone Fuglsang, managing director at Novozymes’s research labs in Davis, California says, “Fully understanding the mechanism behind GH61 is important in the context of commercial production of biofuel from plant waste and a true scientific paradigm shift.”

Read more: Biotech-Manufacturing Partnership to Open Biodiesel Pilot Plant

*     *     *

2 comments to Improved Cellulose Processing Developed for Biofuels