Biomass Analysis Tool Is Faster, More Precise
by Bill Scanlon (National Renewable Energy Laboratory/Renewable Energy World) A screening tool from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) eases and greatly quickens one of the thorniest tasks in the biofuels industry: determining cell wall chemistry to find plants with ideal genes.
NREL’s new High-Throughput Analytical Pyrolysis tool (HTAP) can thoroughly analyze hundreds of biomass samples a day and give an early look at the genotypes that are most worth pursuing. Analysis of a sample that previously took two weeks can now be done in two minutes. That is potentially game changing for tree nurseries and the biomass industry.
When it comes to making fuels out of trees, crops, grasses, or algae, it’s all about the cell walls of the plants.
…To find out the chemical composition of the cell walls, companies have to sample large quantities of biomass, whether it’s switchgrass, remnants of corn stalks, fast-growing trees, or algae.
The traditional strategy had been a multistep approach involving sample dissolution and chromatographic analysis, which can determine what the tree is composed of — but at the cost of disintegrating the sample.
NREL developed an approach using pyrolysis, analyzing the vapor from the samples produced by heat in the absence of oxygen, which is called high-throughput analysis pyrolysis, or HTAP. Pyrolysis destroys the sample, but the sample is tiny — four milligrams for the pyrolysis approach versus 10 grams for the traditional approach.
… It’s the deconstruction of the raw sugars that produces the sugars the biofuels industry finds valuable.