Deconstruction Division Groups
Researchers in the Biomass Pretreatment Group are developing ionic liquid-based pretreatments that disrupt the lignin-carbohydrate complex within biomass and generate a product that is readily converted into fermentable sugars suitable for the production of advanced biofuels. Utilizing advanced imaging and spectroscopy coupled with computer simulations, group researchers are obtaining a detailed understanding of the ionic liquid pretreatment process at the cellular level, and using this information to develop engineering solutions that are scalable and cost-competitive.
In the Enzyme Optimization Group, researchers are developing cost-effective enzyme cocktails for enhancing the hydrolysis of polysaccharides into fermentable sugars under industrial processing conditions. This entails acquiring a better understanding of the activities of free enzymes and enzyme complexes, then characterizing and engineering new enzymes – through analysis of both protein structure and genetic sequences - that can tolerate extremes of temperature and pH as well as the presence of ionic liquids.
The main thrust of the Microbial Communities Group is to identify, isolate and manipulate new enzymes that can efficiently degrade biomass. Targeted ecosystems, such as rain forest floors and composts, are studied in order to identify the microbial communities that show promise for further analysis and exploitation. These microbial communities are studied and compared using targeted, function-based strategies. Group researchers are also involved in the development of a comprehensive knowledgebase of genomic and proteomic characteristics of relevant microbial communities.
Filamentous fungi have tremendous potential for the efficient conversion of cellulosic biomass into advanced biofuels because of their ability to produce significant amounts of protein that can liberate fermentable sugars from polysaccharides. Researchers in the Fungal Biotechnology Group integrate a broad range of techniques to develop a genetic toolbox for more efficient protein production in fungi to expedite the discovery of high-performance, industrial-strength enzyme cocktails that can hydrolyze biomass into fermentable sugars.