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Home » Arizona, Process, R & D Focus, University/College Programs

Solving a Sweet Problem for Renewable Biofuels and Chemicals

Submitted by on June 30, 2017 – 3:48 pmNo Comment

(Phys.Org/Arizona State University)  Despite several major national research initiatives, no one has been able to come up with the breakthrough renewable biofuel technology that would lead to a cheaper alternative to gasoline.

That research challenge led ASU scientists, Reed Cartwright and Xuan Wang, to enter the fray, teaming up to try to break through the innovation bottleneck for the renewable bioproduction of fuels and chemicals.

“My lab has been very interested in converting biomass such as agricultural wastes and even carbon dioxide into useful and renewable bio-based products,” said Wang, an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences. “As a microbiologist, I’m interested in manipulating microbes as biocatalysts to do a better job.”

To do so, they’ve looked into a new approach—harnessing the trial-and-error power of evolution to coax nature into revealing the answer.

By growing bacteria over generations under specially controlled conditions in fermentation tanks, they have test-tube evolved bacteria to better ferment sugars derived from biomass—a rich, potential renewable energy source for the production of biofuels and chemicals.

Their results appeared recently in the online edition of PNAS.

Lignocellulosic biomass has an abundance of glucose and xylose, but industrial E coli strains can’t use xylose because when glucose is available, it turns off the use of xylose. And so, to date, it’s been an inefficient and costly to fully harvest and convert the xylose to biofuels.

Benchtop evolution

Wang and Cartwright wanted to squeeze out more energy from xylose sugars. To do so, they challenged E coli bacteria that could thrive comfortably on glucose—and switch out the growth medium broth to grow solely on xylose.

Together, Wang and Cartwright’s invention has now significantly boosted the potential of industrial E. coli to be used for biofuel production from lignocellulosic materials. In addition, they could use this same genetic approach for other E. coli strains for different products.

Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) is filing a non-provisional patent for their discovery. Wang hopes they can partner with industry to scale up their technology and see if this invention will increase economic viability for bioproduction.

“With these new results, I believe we’ve solved one big, persistent bottleneck in this field,” concluded Wang.   READ MORE

 

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