Designing Microbes that Make Energy-Dense Biofuels without Sugar
(R&D Magazine) With metabolically engineered microorganisms hungry for levulinic acid rather than sugar, a University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) chemical and biological engineer aims to create more sustainable, cost-effective processes for converting biomass into high-energy-density hydrocarbon fuels.
…Brian Pfleger, a UW-Madison assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, is among an emerging group of researchers that is capitalizing on modern biotechnology tools to engineer systems that efficiently and sustainably produce “drop-in” fuels—advanced biofuels interchangeable with today’s fuels and compatible with existing infrastructure.
…Pfleger will study, engineer, and test metabolic pathways in bacteria that can convert biomass to hydrocarbon fuels in a process that bypasses the difficult intermediate step of breaking down the natural sugars in plants.
Those sugars have a tendency to degrade into levulinic acid, which the U.S. Department of Energy calls one of the top value-added chemicals from biomass. Exploiting that tendency, Pfleger will engineer an organism—for example, by adding or subtracting genes—that quickly and efficiently can break down levulinic acid into smaller molecules known as free fatty acids that, in turn, can be used to produce fuels and chemicals. READ MORE and MORE (University of Wisconsin-Madison)