FY 2009 Awards Announcement
Hydrocarbons from Biomass
The Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI)
awarded 20 grants in FY 2009, including the following eight on the
topic of Hydrocarbons from Biomass (HyBi):
Getting the most from biomass
The project “Maximizing Conversion of Biomass Carbon to Liquid
will be led by Rakesh Agrawal, with colleagues Mahdi Abu-Omar, Nicholas
C. Carpita, Maureen C. McCann, and Fabio H. Ribeiro, all from Purdue
To recover more carbon from biomass during its conversion into
energy-rich hydrocarbons, this team will develop optimized biomass
feedstocks and a more efficient thermal conversion process, employing
improved catalysts and oxygen removal. The researchers will test
the idea that molecular changes in cell wall architecture will reduce
the energy required to convert the biomass into hydrocarbons and
will also change the distribution of the resulting molecular species.
Fundamental discoveries from this project will uncover links between
the physical and chemical structure of biomass to the conversion
Breaking down lignin
The project “Lignin Deconstruction for the Production of Liquid
will be led by Rodney Andrews, with collaboration from researchers
Mark Crocker, Seth DeBolt, Mark Meier, and Samuel Morton, all from
the University of Kentucky.
Woody plants, which contain the structural material lignin, are
an abundant feedstock for biofuels; however, current processes for
converting them into fuels result in huge quantities of lignin residues.
Furthermore, lignin itself is of interest as a feedstock due to
its high energy-density. The overarching goal of this project is
to develop improved processes for the direct conversion of lignin
to liquid fuels. With guidance from molecular studies of lignin
deconstruction, the researchers will design plant cells with properties
to overcome lignin’s resistance to chemical and biological
manipulation, and they will develop selective and cost-efficient
catalytic processes for converting lignin into hydrocarbons.
Quick conversion of biomass
The project “Green Aromatics by Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis of
Lignocellulosic Biomass” (0937895)
will be led by George Huber, with collaboration from researchers
Scott Auerbach, Stephen de Bruyn Kops, Triantafillos J. Mountziaris,
and W. Curt Conner, all from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
The researchers’ ultimate objective is to develop more efficient
catalysts and new reactor designs for converting solid biomass directly
into gasoline-range hydrocarbons while generating electricity. During
the biomass conversion process called catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP),
high heat breaks biomass down into gaseous component particles that,
with help from zeolite catalysts, undergo chemical reactions to
yield hydrocarbons. Better understanding of the underlying physical
and chemical phenomena involved in CFP will help the team develop
accurate models to guide reactor design, scale-up, and optimization.
They will also integrate CFP into a power cycle, so that excess
heat from the process can produce electricity.
Fungal fermentation of cellulose for fuels
The project “Fungal Processes for Direct Bioconversion of
Cellulose to Hydrocarbons” (0937613)
will be led by Brent Peyton of Montana State University, in collaboration
with Ross Carlson and Gary Strobel, also of Montana State, and with
Mitchell Smooke and Scott Strobel of Yale University.
In a challenge to the current prototype for ethanol production
from waste cellulose, this team will focus on a recently emerging
biotechnology for direct production of hydrocarbons from plant material.
The fungus Gliocladium roseum produces and excretes a series of
hydrocarbons known as “mycodiesel.” This organism has
the potential to directly produce petroleum using a cellulose fermentation
process that is essentially carbon neutral. The researchers will
characterize and optimize G. roseum for the production of desirable
hydrocarbons. They will also develop models to guide experiments
on maximizing hydrocarbon yields and production rates.
Optimizing fuel production, from algae to biorefinery
The project “Algal Oils to ‘Drop-In’ Replacements
for Petroleum-derived Transportation Fuels” (0937721)
will be led by William L. Roberts, with colleagues JoAnn Burkholder,
H. Henry Lamb, Heike Sederoff, and Larry F. Stikeleather, all from
North Carolina State University.
The researchers will develop and scale up a unique, multi-step
catalytic process to convert a wide range of fats, oils, and lipids
produced by algae into transportation fuels that are chemically
and physically similar to their petroleum counterparts. The team
will use synthetic biology to enhance microalgae production of desirable
feedstock oils, develop approaches to efficiently extract these
oils from the algae, design the catalysts needed for transforming
the oils into hydrocarbons for fuel, and optimize the entire biorefinery
for efficiency and use of by-products.
Algae processing made easy
The project “The Science and Engineering of Microalgae Hydrothermal
will be led by Phillip E. Savage, in collaboration with Greg Keoleian,
Adam Matzger, Xiaoxia “Nina” Lin, and Suljo Linic, all
from the University of Michigan.
Conventional approaches for converting microalgae to liquid fuels
on a large scale have two major barriers: cultivating algae with
high oil content, and drying the algae and extracting its hydrocarbon
components. The researchers will attempt to overcome these barriers
through a new, integrated approach that will work for a wide range
of biomass. Their investigation will focus on understanding conversion
reactions, developing catalysts, and using by-products associated
with processing moist algae at high heat and pressure for the sustainable
production of useful hydrocarbons.
Unlocking the power of biocatalysts
The project “Bioengineering a System for the Direct Production
of Biological Hydrocarbons for Biofuels” (0938157)
will be led by Jacqueline V. Shanks of Iowa State University,
in collaboration with Basil J. Nikolau, and Tom Bobik of Iowa State,
Govind S. Nadathur of the University of Puerto Rico–Mayagüez,
and Gordon Wolfe of California State University.
Some plants, insects, and algae naturally produce simple hydrocarbons
from atmospheric carbon dioxide and solar energy, an ability that
comes from enzymes acting as biocatalysts. The researchers will
explore what genes and mechanisms are behind such biocatalysts and
how they may be successfully integrated into a host organism. Optimizing
a photosynthetic-based organism with the ability to generate hydrocarbons
and controlling its production could bring about a new source of
Cooking up hydrocarbons in a unique “pot”
The project “Conversion of Biomass to Fuels using Molecular
Sieve Catalysts and Millisecond Contact Time Reactors” (0937706)
will be led by Michael Tsapatsis of the University of Minnesota.
He will collaborate with Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt of the University
of Minnesota, Christodoulos Floudas of Princeton University, and
Dionisios Vlachos of the University of Delaware.
The team’s daring research objective is to develop a fast,
continuous, and scalable process for the conversion of lignocellulosic
biomass to fuels in only one “pot” — a stratified
reactor. They will engineer both the biomass vaporization reaction
and the catalytic reactions for removal of oxygen and for building
larger, desired hydrocarbons to take place in the same reactor.
The researchers believe that their recent advances in controlling
thin-film catalysts and modeling reactions and reactor designs will
enable them to produce hydrocarbons in this economically attractive
SUMMARIES OF THE BIOSENSING
AND BIOACTUATION (BSBA) PROJECTS
on Green Gasoline
- Cecile J. Gonzalez, NSF, firstname.lastname@example.org -