Cellulosic biomass – consisting of complex polymers cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin in the cell walls of plants – is the most abundant organic material on Earth. With the right technology, cellulosic biomass can be converted into replacement fuels for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, and into many valuable biproducts.

Building a successful cellulosic biofuels industry depends, in part, on developing specialized biofuel crops or feedstocks that are optimized for deconstruction into sugars and fermentation into biofuels and bioproducts.

Research Challenges:

  • Understanding the biosynthesis of matrix polysaccharides and its regulation
  • Understanding the structure and function of the plant cell wall
  • Engineering cell wall composition to facilitate conversion into biofuels and bioproducts
  • Understand the response of engineered bioenergy crops to abiotic and biotic stress and make the plants resilient to such stress
  • Developing research tools to support studies of cell wall biosynthesis and plant biosystems design

JBEI researchers in the Feedstocks Division are working on understanding plant cell wall biosynthesis and developing plants with improved properties for high sugar, low lignin, and biofuels yields. The goal is to develop bioenergy crops that can thrive with little fertilization or irrigation on land not suitable for growing food crops.

Feedstocks researchers are using two model plant systems – rice and Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to mustard–with well-characterized genomes and established genetic-engineering tools. These model systems are ideal for research because their development from seed to mature plant takes only weeks or months. In addition, the Feedstocks Division is transferring improvements into switchgrass and sorghum.