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1.  Bioethanol from poplar clone Imola: an environmentally viable alternative to fossil fuel? 
Environmental issues, e.g. climate change, fossil resource depletion have triggered ambitious national/regional policies to develop biofuel and bioenergy roles within the overall energy portfolio to achieve decarbonising the global economy and increase energy security. With the 10 % binding target for the transport sector, the Renewable Energy Directive confirms the EU’s commitment to renewable transport fuels especially advanced biofuels. Imola is an elite poplar clone crossed from Populus deltoides Bartr. and Populus nigra L. by Research Units for Intensive Wood Production, Agriculture Research Council in Italy. This study examines its suitability for plantation cultivation under short or very short rotation coppice regimes as a potential lignocellulosic feedstock for the production of ethanol as a transport biofuel. A life cycle assessment (LCA) approach was used to model the cradle-to-gate environmental profile of Imola-derived biofuel benchmarked against conventional fossil gasoline. Specific attention was given to analysing the agroecosystem fluxes of carbon and nitrogen occurring in the cultivation of the Imola biomass in the biofuel life cycle using a process-oriented biogeochemistry model (DeNitrification-DeComposition) specifically modified for application to 2G perennial bioenergy crops and carbon and nitrogen cycling.
Our results demonstrate that carbon and nitrogen cycling in perennial crop–soil ecosystems such as this example can be expected to have significant effects on the overall environmental profiles of 2G biofuels. In particular, soil carbon accumulation in perennial biomass plantations is likely to be a significant component in the overall greenhouse gas balance of future biofuel and other biorefinery products and warrants ongoing research and data collection for LCA models. We conclude that bioethanol produced from Imola represents a promising alternative transport fuel offering some savings ranging from 35 to 100 % over petrol in global warming potential, ozone depletion and photochemical oxidation impact categories.
Via comparative analyses for Imola-derived bioethanol across potential supply chains, we highlight priority issues for potential improvement in 2G biofuel profiling. Advanced clones of poplar such as Imola for 2G biofuel production in Italy as modelled here show potential to deliver an environmentally sustainable lignocellulosic biorefinery industry and accelerate advanced biofuel penetration in the transport sector.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13068-015-0318-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4558961  PMID: 26339291
2G biofuel; Perenial bioenergy crop; Poplar; Bioethanol; Supply chain; Life cycle assessment; Carbon and nitrogen cycling; Biogeochemistry model; DNDC
2.  Integrating social and value dimensions into sustainability assessment of lignocellulosic biofuels 
Biomass & Bioenergy  2015;82:49-62.
The paper clarifies the social and value dimensions for integrated sustainability assessments of lignocellulosic biofuels. We develop a responsible innovation approach, looking at technology impacts and implementation challenges, assumptions and value conflicts influencing how impacts are identified and assessed, and different visions for future development. We identify three distinct value-based visions. From a techno-economic perspective, lignocellulosic biofuels can contribute to energy security with improved GHG implications and fewer sustainability problems than fossil fuels and first-generation biofuels, especially when biomass is domestically sourced. From socio-economic and cultural-economic perspectives, there are concerns about the capacity to support UK-sourced feedstocks in a global agri-economy, difficulties monitoring large-scale supply chains and their potential for distributing impacts unfairly, and tensions between domestic sourcing and established legacies of farming. To respond to these concerns, we identify the potential for moving away from a one-size-fits-all biofuel/biorefinery model to regionally-tailored bioenergy configurations that might lower large-scale uses of land for meat, reduce monocultures and fossil-energy needs of farming and diversify business models. These configurations could explore ways of reconciling some conflicts between food, fuel and feed (by mixing feed crops with lignocellulosic material for fuel, combining livestock grazing with energy crops, or using crops such as miscanthus to manage land that is no longer arable); different bioenergy applications (with on-farm use of feedstocks for heat and power and for commercial biofuel production); and climate change objectives and pressures on farming. Findings are based on stakeholder interviews, literature synthesis and discussions with an expert advisory group.
•We develop a responsible innovation approach to assessing lignocellulosic biofuel systems.•We clarify social and value dimensions required for integrated sustainability assessment.•Insights on farming and agricultural system perspectives are important for sustainability assessment.•We identify techno-economic, socio-economic and cultural-economic perspectives on lignocellulosic biofuel development.•Regionally-tailored bioenergy configurations may provide alternatives to large-scale biorefinery models.
PMCID: PMC4643753  PMID: 26664147
Lignocellulosic biofuels; Integrated sustainability assessment; Social and value dimensions of technology; Agricultural systems; Responsible innovation
3.  Proteome-wide systems analysis of a cellulosic biofuel-producing microbe 
We apply mass spectrometry-based ReDi proteomics to quantify the Clostridium phytofermentans proteome during fermentation of cellulosic substrates. ReDi proteomics gives accurate, low-cost quantification of an extra and intracellular microbial proteome. When combined with physiological measurements, these methods form a general systems biology strategy to evaluate the efficiency of cellulosic bioconversion and to identify enzyme targets to engineer for improving this process.C. phytofermentans expressed more than 100 carbohydrate-active enzymes, of which distinct subsets were upregulated on cellulose and hemicellulose. Numerous extracellular enzymes cleave insoluble plant polysaccharides into oligosaccharides, which are transported into the cell to be further degraded by intracellular carbohydratases. Sugars are catabolized by EMP glycolysis incorporating alternative glycolytic enzymes to maximize the ATP yield of anaerobic metabolism.During cellulosic fermentation, cells adhered to the substrate and altered metabolic processes such as upregulation of tryptophan and nicotinamide synthesis proteins and repression of proteins for fatty acid metabolism and cell motility. These diverse metabolic changes highlight how a systems approach can identify novel ways to optimize cellulosic fermentation.
Cellulose is the world's most abundant renewable, biological energy source (Leschine, 1995). Microbial fermentation of cellulosic biomass could sustainably provide enough ethanol for 65% of US ground transportation fuel at current levels (Somerville, 2006). However, cellulose in plant biomass is packaged into a crystalline matrix, making biomass deconstruction a key roadblock to using it as a feedstock (Houghton et al, 2006). A promising strategy to overcome biomass recalcitrance is consolidated bioprocessing (Lynd et al, 2002), which uses microbes such as Clostridium phytofermentans to both secrete enzymes to depolymerize biomass and then ferment the resulting hexose and pentose sugars to a biofuel such as ethanol. The C. phytofermentans genome encodes 161 carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZy) including 108 glycoside hydrolases spread across 39 families (Cantarel et al, 2009), highlighting the elaborate set of enzymes needed to breakdown different cellulosic polysaccharides. Faced with the complexity of metabolizing biomass, systems biology strategies are needed to comprehensively identify which cellulolytic and metabolic enzymes are used to ferment different cellulosic substrates.
This study presents a systems-level analysis of how C. phytofermentans ferments different cellulosic substrates that incorporates quantitative mass spectrometry-based proteomics of over 2500 proteins. Protein concentrations within each carbon source treatment were calculated by machine learning-supported spectral counting (Absolute Protein EXpression, APEX) (Lu et al, 2007). Protein levels on hemicellulose and cellulose relative to glucose were determined using reductive methylation (Hsu et al, 2003; Boersema et al, 2009), here called ReDi labeling, to chemically incorporate hydrogen or deuterium isotopes at lysines and N-terminal amines of tryptic peptides. We show that ReDi proteomics gives accurate, low-cost quantification of a microbial proteome and can be used to discern extracellular proteins. Further, we combine these quantitative proteomics with detailed measurements of growth, biomass consumption, fermentation product analyses, and electron microscopy. Together, these methods form a general strategy to evaluate the efficiency of cellulosic bioconversion and to identify enzyme targets to engineer for improving this process (Figure 1).
We found that fermentation of cellulosic substrates by C. phytofermentans involves secretion of numerous CAZy as well as proteins for binding of extracellular solutes, proteolysis, and motility. The most highly expressed protein in the proteome is a secreted protein that appears to compose a surface layer to support the cell and anchor cell surface proteins, including some enzymes for plant degradation. Once the secreted CAZy cleave insoluble plant polysaccharides into oligosaccharides, they are taken into the cell to be further degraded by intracellular CAZy, enabling more efficient sugar transport, conserving energy by phosphorolytic cleavage, and ensuring the sugar monomers were not available to competing microbes. Sugars are catabolized by EMP glycolysis incorporating reversible, PPi-dependent glycolytic enzymes, and pyruvate ferredoxin oxidoreductase. The genome encodes seven alcohol dehydrogenases, among which two iron-dependent enzymes are highly expressed and likely facilitate the high ethanol yields. Growth on cellulose also resulted in indirect changes such as increased tryptophan and nicotinamide synthesis and repression of fatty acid synthesis. We distilled the data into a model showing the highly expressed enzymes enabling efficient cellulosic fermentation by C. phytofermentans (Figure 7). Collectively, these data help understand how bacteria recycle plant biomass works towards enabling the use of plant biomass as a low-cost chemical feedstock.
Fermentation of plant biomass by microbes like Clostridium phytofermentans recycles carbon globally and can make biofuels from inedible feedstocks. We analyzed C. phytofermentans fermenting cellulosic substrates by integrating quantitative mass spectrometry of more than 2500 proteins with measurements of growth, enzyme activities, fermentation products, and electron microscopy. Absolute protein concentrations were estimated using Absolute Protein EXpression (APEX); relative changes between treatments were quantified with chemical stable isotope labeling by reductive dimethylation (ReDi). We identified the different combinations of carbohydratases used to degrade cellulose and hemicellulose, many of which were secreted based on quantification of supernatant proteins, as well as the repertoires of glycolytic enzymes and alcohol dehydrogenases (ADHs) enabling ethanol production at near maximal yields. Growth on cellulose also resulted in diverse changes such as increased expression of tryptophan synthesis proteins and repression of proteins for fatty acid metabolism and cell motility. This study gives a systems-level understanding of how this microbe ferments biomass and provides a rational, empirical basis to identify engineering targets for industrial cellulosic fermentation.
PMCID: PMC3049413  PMID: 21245846
bioenergy; clostridium; proteomics
4.  Evaluating the composition and processing potential of novel sources of Brazilian biomass for sustainable biorenewables production 
The search for promising and renewable sources of carbohydrates for the production of biofuels and other biorenewables has been stimulated by an increase in global energy demand in the face of growing concern over greenhouse gas emissions and fuel security. In particular, interest has focused on non-food lignocellulosic biomass as a potential source of abundant and sustainable feedstock for biorefineries. Here we investigate the potential of three Brazilian grasses (Panicum maximum, Pennisetum purpureum and Brachiaria brizantha), as well as bark residues from the harvesting of two commercial Eucalyptus clones (E. grandis and E. grandis x urophylla) for biofuel production, and compare these to sugarcane bagasse. The effects of hot water, acid, alkaline and sulfite pretreatments (at increasing temperatures) on the chemical composition, morphology and saccharification yields of these different biomass types were evaluated.
The average yield (per hectare), availability and general composition of all five biomasses were compared. Compositional analyses indicate a high level of hemicellulose and lignin removal in all grass varieties (including sugarcane bagasse) after acid and alkaline pretreatment with increasing temperatures, whilst the biomasses pretreated with hot water or sulfite showed little variation from the control. For all biomasses, higher cellulose enrichment resulted from treatment with sodium hydroxide at 130°C. At 180°C, a decrease in cellulose content was observed, which is associated with high amorphous cellulose removal and 5-hydroxymethyl-furaldehyde production. Morphological analysis showed the effects of different pretreatments on the biomass surface, revealing a high production of microfibrillated cellulose on grass surfaces, after treatment with 1% sodium hydroxide at 130°C for 30 minutes. This may explain the higher hydrolysis yields resulting from these pretreatments, since these cellulosic nanoparticles can be easily accessed and cleaved by cellulases.
Our results show the potential of three Brazilian grasses with high productivity yields as valuable sources of carbohydrates for ethanol production and other biomaterials. Sodium hydroxide at 130°C was found to be the most effective pretreatment for enhanced saccharification yields. It was also efficient in the production of microfibrillated cellulose on grass surfaces, thereby revealing their potential as a source of natural fillers used for bionanocomposites production.
PMCID: PMC4028816  PMID: 24438499
Bioethanol; Brachiaria brizantha; Brazilian grasses; Chemical composition; Enzymatic saccharification; Eucalyptus barks; Panicum maximum; Pennisetum purpureum; Pretreatments; Scanning electron microscopy; Sugarcane bagasse
5.  Next-generation cellulosic ethanol technologies and their contribution to a sustainable Africa 
Interface Focus  2011;1(2):196-211.
The world is currently heavily dependent on oil, especially in the transport sector. However, rising oil prices, concern about environmental impact and supply instability are among the factors that have led to greater interest in renewable fuel and green chemistry alternatives. Lignocellulose is the only foreseeable renewable feedstock for sustainable production of transport fuels. The main technological impediment to more widespread utilization of lignocellulose for production of fuels and chemicals in the past has been the lack of low-cost technologies to overcome the recalcitrance of its structure. Both biological and thermochemical second-generation conversion technologies are currently coming online for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol concomitantly with heat and electricity production. The latest advances in biological conversion of lignocellulosics to ethanol with a focus on consolidated bioprocessing are highlighted. Furthermore, integration of cellulosic ethanol production into existing bio-based industries also using thermochemical processes to optimize energy balances is discussed. Biofuels have played a pivotal yet suboptimal role in supplementing Africa's energy requirements in the past. Capitalizing on sub-Saharan Africa's total biomass potential and using second-generation technologies merit a fresh look at the potential role of bioethanol production towards developing a sustainable Africa while addressing food security, human needs and local wealth creation.
PMCID: PMC3262263  PMID: 22482027
cellulosic ethanol; consolidated bioprocessing; integrating bio-based industries; sustainable biofuels in Africa
6.  Enzymatic hydrolysis of biomass from wood 
Microbial Biotechnology  2016;9(2):149-156.
Current research and development in cellulosic ethanol production has been focused mainly on agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops such as corn stover and switchgrass; however, woody biomass remains a very important feedstock for ethanol production. The precise composition of hemicellulose in the wood is strongly dependent on the plant species, therefore different types of enzymes are needed based on hemicellulose complexity and type of pretreatment. In general, hardwood species have much lower recalcitrance to enzymes than softwood. For hardwood, xylanases, beta‐xylosidases and xyloglucanases are the main hemicellulases involved in degradation of the hemicellulose backbone, while for softwood the effect of mannanases and beta‐mannosidases is more relevant. Furthermore, there are different key accessory enzymes involved in removing the hemicellulosic fraction and increasing accessibility of cellulases to the cellulose fibres improving the hydrolysis process. A diversity of enzymatic cocktails has been tested using from low to high densities of biomass (2–20% total solids) and a broad range of results has been obtained. The performance of recently developed commercial cocktails on hardwoods and softwoods will enable a further step for the commercialization of fuel ethanol from wood.
PMCID: PMC4767290  PMID: 26833542
7.  Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part I: Lignin 
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation1 and other products such as biocomposite materials7. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses (matrix polysaccharides, and the polyphenol lignin6 and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls provide tensile strength to cells and the entire plants, ward off pathogens, and allow water to be transported throughout the plant; in the case of trees up to more the 100 m above ground level. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerization by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis. In this first part we focus on the analysis of the polyphenol lignin (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its lignin content by acetylbromide solubilization3, and its lignin composition in terms of its syringyl, guaiacyl- and p-hydroxyphenyl units5. The protocol for analyzing the carbohydrates in lignocellulosic biomass including cellulose content and matrix polysaccharide composition is discussed in Part II2.
PMCID: PMC3144576  PMID: 20224547
Plant Biology; Issue 37; cell walls; lignin; GC-MS; biomass; compositional analysis
8.  Comprehensive Compositional Analysis of Plant Cell Walls (Lignocellulosic biomass) Part II: Carbohydrates 
The need for renewable, carbon neutral, and sustainable raw materials for industry and society has become one of the most pressing issues for the 21st century. This has rekindled interest in the use of plant products as industrial raw materials for the production of liquid fuels for transportation2 and other products such as biocomposite materials6. Plant biomass remains one of the greatest untapped reserves on the planet4. It is mostly comprised of cell walls that are composed of energy rich polymers including cellulose, various hemicelluloses, and the polyphenol lignin5 and thus sometimes termed lignocellulosics. However, plant cell walls have evolved to be recalcitrant to degradation as walls contribute extensively to the strength and structural integrity of the entire plant. Despite its necessary rigidity, the cell wall is a highly dynamic entity that is metabolically active and plays crucial roles in numerous cell activities such as plant growth and differentiation5. Due to the various functions of walls, there is an immense structural diversity within the walls of different plant species and cell types within a single plant4. Hence, depending of what crop species, crop variety, or plant tissue is used for a biorefinery, the processing steps for depolymerisation by chemical/enzymatic processes and subsequent fermentation of the various sugars to liquid biofuels need to be adjusted and optimized. This fact underpins the need for a thorough characterization of plant biomass feedstocks. Here we describe a comprehensive analytical methodology that enables the determination of the composition of lignocellulosics and is amenable to a medium to high-throughput analysis (Figure 1). The method starts of with preparing destarched cell wall material. The resulting lignocellulosics are then split up to determine its monosaccharide composition of the hemicelluloses and other matrix polysaccharides1, and its content of crystalline cellulose7. The protocol for analyzing the lignin components in lignocellulosic biomass is discussed in Part I3.
PMCID: PMC3145335  PMID: 20228730
Plant Biology; Issue 37; cell walls; polysaccharide; cellulose; hemicellulose; sugar composition; GC-MS
9.  Energy Potential and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Bioenergy Cropping Systems on Marginally Productive Cropland 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e89501.
Low-carbon biofuel sources are being developed and evaluated in the United States and Europe to partially offset petroleum transport fuels. Current and potential biofuel production systems were evaluated from a long-term continuous no-tillage corn (Zea mays L.) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) field trial under differing harvest strategies and nitrogen (N) fertilizer intensities to determine overall environmental sustainability. Corn and switchgrass grown for bioenergy resulted in near-term net greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions of −29 to −396 grams of CO2 equivalent emissions per megajoule of ethanol per year as a result of direct soil carbon sequestration and from the adoption of integrated biofuel conversion pathways. Management practices in switchgrass and corn resulted in large variation in petroleum offset potential. Switchgrass, using best management practices produced 3919±117 liters of ethanol per hectare and had 74±2.2 gigajoules of petroleum offsets per hectare which was similar to intensified corn systems (grain and 50% residue harvest under optimal N rates). Co-locating and integrating cellulosic biorefineries with existing dry mill corn grain ethanol facilities improved net energy yields (GJ ha−1) of corn grain ethanol by >70%. A multi-feedstock, landscape approach coupled with an integrated biorefinery would be a viable option to meet growing renewable transportation fuel demands while improving the energy efficiency of first generation biofuels.
PMCID: PMC3942357  PMID: 24594783
10.  Maize feedstocks with improved digestibility reduce the costs and environmental impacts of biomass pretreatment and saccharification 
Despite the recognition that feedstock composition influences biomass conversion efficiency, limited information exists as to how bioenergy crops with reduced recalcitrance can improve the economics and sustainability of cellulosic fuel conversion platforms. We have compared the bioenergy potential—estimated as total glucose productivity per hectare (TGP)—of maize cultivars contrasting for cell wall digestibility across processing conditions of increasing thermochemical severity. In addition, exploratory environmental impact and economic modeling were used to assess whether the development of bioenergy feedstocks with improved cell wall digestibility can enhance the environmental performance and reduce the costs of biomass pretreatment and enzymatic conversion.
Systematic genetic gains in cell wall degradability can lead to significant advances in the productivity (TGP) of cellulosic fuel biorefineries under low severity processing; only if gains in digestibility are not accompanied by substantial yield penalties. For a hypothetical maize genotype combining the best characteristics available in the evaluated cultivar panel, TGP under mild processing conditions (~3.7 t ha−1) matched the highest realizable yields possible at the highest processing severity. Under this scenario, both, the environmental impacts and processing costs for the pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification of maize stover were reduced by 15 %, given lower chemical and heat consumption.
Genetic improvements in cell wall composition leading to superior cell wall digestibility can be advantageous for cellulosic fuel production, especially if “less severe” processing regimes are favored for further development. Exploratory results indicate potential cost and environmental impact reductions for the pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification of maize feedstocks exhibiting higher cell wall degradability. Conceptually, these results demonstrate that the advance of bioenergy cultivars with improved biomass degradability can enhance the performance of currently available biomass-to-ethanol conversion systems.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13068-016-0479-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4791978  PMID: 26981155
Maize; Cell wall digestibility; Biomass yield; Technoeconomic; Refinery; Pretreatment
11.  Bioconversion of Sugarcane Biomass into Ethanol: An Overview about Composition, Pretreatment Methods, Detoxification of Hydrolysates, Enzymatic Saccharification, and Ethanol Fermentation 
Depleted supplies of fossil fuel, regular price hikes of gasoline, and environmental damage have necessitated the search for economic and eco-benign alternative of gasoline. Ethanol is produced from food/feed-based substrates (grains, sugars, and molasses), and its application as an energy source does not seem fit for long term due to the increasing fuel, food, feed, and other needs. These concerns have enforced to explore the alternative means of cost competitive and sustainable supply of biofuel. Sugarcane residues, sugarcane bagasse (SB), and straw (SS) could be the ideal feedstock for the second-generation (2G) ethanol production. These raw materials are rich in carbohydrates and renewable and do not compete with food/feed demands. However, the efficient bioconversion of SB/SS (efficient pretreatment technology, depolymerization of cellulose, and fermentation of released sugars) remains challenging to commercialize the cellulosic ethanol. Among the technological challenges, robust pretreatment and development of efficient bioconversion process (implicating suitable ethanol producing strains converting pentose and hexose sugars) have a key role to play. This paper aims to review the compositional profile of SB and SS, pretreatment methods of cane biomass, detoxification methods for the purification of hydrolysates, enzymatic hydrolysis, and the fermentation of released sugars for ethanol production.
PMCID: PMC3516358  PMID: 23251086
12.  Enhanced characteristics of genetically modified switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) for high biofuel production 
Lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most promising renewable and clean energy resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. However, the resistance to accessibility of sugars embedded in plant cell walls (so-called recalcitrance) is a major barrier to economically viable cellulosic ethanol production. A recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences indicated that, “absent technological breakthroughs”, it was unlikely that the US would meet the congressionally mandated renewable fuel standard of 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels plus 1 billion gallons of biodiesel by 2022. We here describe the properties of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) biomass that has been genetically engineered to increase the cellulosic ethanol yield by more than 2-fold.
We have increased the cellulosic ethanol yield from switchgrass by 2.6-fold through overexpression of the transcription factor PvMYB4. This strategy reduces carbon deposition into lignin and phenolic fermentation inhibitors while maintaining the availability of potentially fermentable soluble sugars and pectic polysaccharides. Detailed biomass characterization analyses revealed that the levels and nature of phenolic acids embedded in the cell-wall, the lignin content and polymer size, lignin internal linkage levels, linkages between lignin and xylans/pectins, and levels of wall-bound fucose are all altered in PvMYB4-OX lines. Genetically engineered PvMYB4-OX switchgrass therefore provides a novel system for further understanding cell wall recalcitrance.
Our results have demonstrated that overexpression of PvMYB4, a general transcriptional repressor of the phenylpropanoid/lignin biosynthesis pathway, can lead to very high yield ethanol production through dramatic reduction of recalcitrance. MYB4-OX switchgrass is an excellent model system for understanding recalcitrance, and provides new germplasm for developing switchgrass cultivars as biomass feedstocks for biofuel production.
PMCID: PMC3652750  PMID: 23651942
Switchgrass; Bioenergy; Biofuel; Feedstock; Cellulosic ethanol; PvMYB4; Transcription factor; Cell wall; Recalcitrance; Lignin; Hemicellulose; Pectin
13.  Glucanocellulosic ethanol: the undiscovered biofuel potential in energy crops and marine biomass 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:13722.
Converting biomass to biofuels is a key strategy in substituting fossil fuels to mitigate climate change. Conventional strategies to convert lignocellulosic biomass to ethanol address the fermentation of cellulose-derived glucose. Here we used super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to uncover the nanoscale structure of cell walls in the energy crops maize and Miscanthus where the typical polymer cellulose forms an unconventional layered architecture with the atypical (1, 3)-β-glucan polymer callose. This raised the question about an unused potential of (1, 3)-β-glucan in the fermentation of lignocellulosic biomass. Engineering biomass conversion for optimized (1, 3)-β-glucan utilization, we increased the ethanol yield from both energy crops. The generation of transgenic Miscanthus lines with an elevated (1, 3)-β-glucan content further increased ethanol yield providing a new strategy in energy crop breeding. Applying the (1, 3)-β-glucan-optimized conversion method on marine biomass from brown macroalgae with a naturally high (1, 3)-β-glucan content, we not only substantially increased ethanol yield but also demonstrated an effective co-fermentation of plant and marine biomass. This opens new perspectives in combining different kinds of feedstock for sustainable and efficient biofuel production, especially in coastal regions.
PMCID: PMC4555182  PMID: 26324382
14.  Impact of pretreatment and downstream processing technologies on economics and energy in cellulosic ethanol production 
While advantages of biofuel have been widely reported, studies also highlight the challenges in large scale production of biofuel. Cost of ethanol and process energy use in cellulosic ethanol plants are dependent on technologies used for conversion of feedstock. Process modeling can aid in identifying techno-economic bottlenecks in a production process. A comprehensive techno-economic analysis was performed for conversion of cellulosic feedstock to ethanol using some of the common pretreatment technologies: dilute acid, dilute alkali, hot water and steam explosion. Detailed process models incorporating feedstock handling, pretreatment, simultaneous saccharification and co-fermentation, ethanol recovery and downstream processing were developed using SuperPro Designer. Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb) was used as a model feedstock.
Projected ethanol yields were 252.62, 255.80, 255.27 and 230.23 L/dry metric ton biomass for conversion process using dilute acid, dilute alkali, hot water and steam explosion pretreatment technologies respectively. Price of feedstock and cellulose enzymes were assumed as $50/metric ton and 0.517/kg broth (10% protein in broth, 600 FPU/g protein) respectively. Capital cost of ethanol plants processing 250,000 metric tons of feedstock/year was $1.92, $1.73, $1.72 and $1.70/L ethanol for process using dilute acid, dilute alkali, hot water and steam explosion pretreatment respectively. Ethanol production cost of $0.83, $0.88, $0.81 and $0.85/L ethanol was estimated for production process using dilute acid, dilute alkali, hot water and steam explosion pretreatment respectively. Water use in the production process using dilute acid, dilute alkali, hot water and steam explosion pretreatment was estimated 5.96, 6.07, 5.84 and 4.36 kg/L ethanol respectively.
Ethanol price and energy use were highly dependent on process conditions used in the ethanol production plant. Potential for significant ethanol cost reductions exist in increasing pentose fermentation efficiency and reducing biomass and enzyme costs. The results demonstrated the importance of addressing the tradeoffs in capital costs, pretreatment and downstream processing technologies.
PMCID: PMC3179443  PMID: 21892958
Grass straw; cellulosic ethanol; pretreatment; process model; process economics.
15.  Agave proves to be a low recalcitrant lignocellulosic feedstock for biofuels production on semi-arid lands 
Agave, which is well known for tequila and other liquor production in Mexico, has recently gained attention because of its attractive potential to launch sustainable bioenergy feedstock solutions for semi-arid and arid lands. It was previously found that agave cell walls contain low lignin and relatively diverse non-cellulosic polysaccharides, suggesting unique recalcitrant features when compared to conventional C4 and C3 plants.
Here, we report sugar release data from fungal enzymatic hydrolysis of non-pretreated and hydrothermally pretreated biomass that shows agave to be much less recalcitrant to deconstruction than poplar or switchgrass. In fact, non-pretreated agave has a sugar release five to eight times greater than that of poplar wood and switchgrass . Meanwhile, state of the art techniques including glycome profiling, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Simon’s Stain, confocal laser scanning microscopy and so forth, were applied to measure interactions of non-cellulosic wall components, cell wall hydrophilicity, and enzyme accessibility to identify key structural features that make agave cell walls less resistant to biological deconstruction when compared to poplar and switchgrass.
This study systematically evaluated the recalcitrant features of agave plants towards biofuels applications. The results show that not only does agave present great promise for feeding biorefineries on semi-arid and arid lands, but also show the value of studying agave’s low recalcitrance for developments in improving cellulosic energy crops.
PMCID: PMC4022320  PMID: 24708685
Agave; Biofuels; Feedstock; Low recalcitrance; Semi-arid land
16.  Genomic Analysis of the Hydrocarbon-Producing, Cellulolytic, Endophytic Fungus Ascocoryne sarcoides 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(3):e1002558.
The microbial conversion of solid cellulosic biomass to liquid biofuels may provide a renewable energy source for transportation fuels. Endophytes represent a promising group of organisms, as they are a mostly untapped reservoir of metabolic diversity. They are often able to degrade cellulose, and they can produce an extraordinary diversity of metabolites. The filamentous fungal endophyte Ascocoryne sarcoides was shown to produce potential-biofuel metabolites when grown on a cellulose-based medium; however, the genetic pathways needed for this production are unknown and the lack of genetic tools makes traditional reverse genetics difficult. We present the genomic characterization of A. sarcoides and use transcriptomic and metabolomic data to describe the genes involved in cellulose degradation and to provide hypotheses for the biofuel production pathways. In total, almost 80 biosynthetic clusters were identified, including several previously found only in plants. Additionally, many transcriptionally active regions outside of genes showed condition-specific expression, offering more evidence for the role of long non-coding RNA in gene regulation. This is one of the highest quality fungal genomes and, to our knowledge, the only thoroughly annotated and transcriptionally profiled fungal endophyte genome currently available. The analyses and datasets contribute to the study of cellulose degradation and biofuel production and provide the genomic foundation for the study of a model endophyte system.
Author Summary
A renewable source of energy is a pressing global need. The biological conversion of lignocellulose to biofuels by microorganisms presents a promising avenue, but few organisms have been studied thoroughly enough to develop the genetic tools necessary for rigorous experimentation. The filamentous-fungal endophyte A. sarcoides produces metabolites when grown on a cellulose-based medium that include eight-carbon volatile organic compounds, which are potential biofuel targets. Here we use broadly applicable methods including genomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics to explore the biofuel production of A. sarcoides. These data were used to assemble the genome into 16 scaffolds, to thoroughly annotate the cellulose-degradation machinery, and to make predictions for the production pathway for the eight-carbon volatiles. Extremely high expression of the gene swollenin when grown on cellulose highlights the importance of accessory proteins in addition to the enzymes that catalyze the breakdown of the polymers. Correlation of the production of the eight-carbon biofuel-like metabolites with the expression of lipoxygenase pathway genes suggests the catabolism of linoleic acid as the mechanism of eight-carbon compound production. This is the first fungal genome to be sequenced in the family Helotiaceae, and A. sarcoides was isolated as an endophyte, making this work also potentially useful in fungal systematics and the study of plant–fungus relationships.
PMCID: PMC3291568  PMID: 22396667
17.  Oleaginous yeast platform for producing biofuels via co-solvent hydrothermal liquefaction 
Oleaginous microorganisms are attractive feedstock for production of liquid biofuels. Direct hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is an efficient route that converts whole, wet biomass into an energy-dense liquid fuel precursor, called ‘biocrude’. HTL represents a promising alternative to conventional lipid extraction methods as it does not require a dry feedstock or additional steps for lipid extraction. However, high operating pressure in HTL can pose challenges in reactor sizing and overall operating costs. Through the use of co-solvents the HTL operating pressure can be reduced. The present study investigates low-temperature co-solvent HTL of oleaginous yeast, Cryptococcus curvatus, using laboratory batch reactors.
In this study, we report the co-solvent HTL of microbial yeast biomass in an isopropanol–water binary system in the presence or absence of Na2CO3 catalyst. This novel approach proved to be effective and resulted in significantly higher yield of biocrude (56.4 ± 0.1 %) than that of HTL performed without a co-solvent (49.1 ± 0.4 %)(p = 0.001). Addition of Na2CO3 as a catalyst marginally improved the biocrude yield. The energy content of the resulting biocrude (~37 MJ kg−1) was only slightly lower than that of petroleum crude (42 MJ kg−1). The HTL process was successful in removing carboxyl groups from fatty acids and creating their associated straight-chain alkanes (C17–C21). Experimental results were leveraged to inform techno-economic analysis (TEA) of the baseline HTL conversion pathway to evaluate the commercial feasibility of this process. TEA results showed a renewable diesel fuel price of $5.09 per gallon, with the HTL-processing step accounting for approximately 23 % of the total cost for the baseline pathway.
This study shows the feasibility of co-solvent HTL of oleaginous yeast biomass in producing an energy-dense biocrude, and hence provides a platform for adding value to the current dairy industry. Co-solvents can be used to lower the HTL temperature and hence the operating pressure. This process results in a higher biocrude yield at a lower HTL temperature. A conceptual yeast HTL biofuel platform suggests the use of a dairy waste stream for increasing the productivity and sustainability of rural areas while providing a new feedstock (yeast) for generating biofuels.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13068-015-0345-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4605089  PMID: 26468320
Biofuel; Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL); Yeast; Biocrude; Co-solvent; Techno-economic analysis
18.  Efficient Eucalypt Cell Wall Deconstruction and Conversion for Sustainable Lignocellulosic Biofuels 
In order to meet the world’s growing energy demand and reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from fossil fuel combustion, renewable plant-based feedstocks for biofuel production must be considered. The first-generation biofuels, derived from starches of edible feedstocks, such as corn, create competition between food and fuel resources, both for the crop itself and the land on which it is grown. As such, biofuel synthesized from non-edible plant biomass (lignocellulose) generated on marginal agricultural land will help to alleviate this competition. Eucalypts, the broadly defined taxa encompassing over 900 species of Eucalyptus, Corymbia, and Angophora are the most widely planted hardwood tree in the world, harvested mainly for timber, pulp and paper, and biomaterial products. More recently, due to their exceptional growth rate and amenability to grow under a wide range of environmental conditions, eucalypts are a leading option for the development of a sustainable lignocellulosic biofuels. However, efficient conversion of woody biomass into fermentable monomeric sugars is largely dependent on pretreatment of the cell wall, whose formation and complexity lend itself toward natural recalcitrance against its efficient deconstruction. A greater understanding of this complexity within the context of various pretreatments will allow the design of new and effective deconstruction processes for bioenergy production. In this review, we present the various pretreatment options for eucalypts, including research into understanding structure and formation of the eucalypt cell wall.
PMCID: PMC4653827  PMID: 26636077
eucalypts; biotechnology; pretreatment; lignocellulosic biofuel; bioenergy
19.  Biological conversion assay using Clostridium phytofermentans to estimate plant feedstock quality 
There is currently considerable interest in developing renewable sources of energy. One strategy is the biological conversion of plant biomass to liquid transportation fuel. Several technical hurdles impinge upon the economic feasibility of this strategy, including the development of energy crops amenable to facile deconstruction. Reliable assays to characterize feedstock quality are needed to measure the effects of pre-treatment and processing and of the plant and microbial genetic diversity that influence bioconversion efficiency.
We used the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium phytofermentans to develop a robust assay for biomass digestibility and conversion to biofuels. The assay utilizes the ability of the microbe to convert biomass directly into ethanol with little or no pre-treatment. Plant samples were added to an anaerobic minimal medium and inoculated with C. phytofermentans, incubated for 3 days, after which the culture supernatant was analyzed for ethanol concentration. The assay detected significant differences in the supernatant ethanol from wild-type sorghum compared with brown midrib sorghum mutants previously shown to be highly digestible. Compositional analysis of the biomass before and after inoculation suggested that differences in xylan metabolism were partly responsible for the differences in ethanol yields. Additionally, we characterized the natural genetic variation for conversion efficiency in Brachypodium distachyon and shrub willow (Salix spp.).
Our results agree with those from previous studies of lignin mutants using enzymatic saccharification-based approaches. However, the use of C. phytofermentans takes into consideration specific organismal interactions, which will be crucial for simultaneous saccharification fermentation or consolidated bioprocessing. The ability to detect such phenotypic variation facilitates the genetic analysis of mechanisms underlying plant feedstock quality.
PMCID: PMC3348094  PMID: 22316115
20.  Farm systems assessment of bioenergy feedstock production: Integrating bio-economic models and life cycle analysis approaches 
Agricultural Systems  2012;109:53-64.
► A modelling framework for managing energy and emissions trade-offs in agriculture. ► Combination of bio-economic process modelling and life cycle assessment. ► Captures financial, energy and emissions trade-offs and cereal straw use. ► The gross margin-energy trade-off is £36 GJ−1. ► All cereal straw is baled for sale when gross margin or net energy is maximised.
Climate change and energy security concerns have driven the development of policies that encourage bioenergy production. Meeting EU targets for the consumption of transport fuels from bioenergy by 2020 will require a large increase in the production of bioenergy feedstock. Initially an increase in ‘first generation’ biofuels was observed, however ‘food competition’ concerns have generated interest in second generation biofuels (SGBs). These SGBs can be produced from co-products (e.g. cereal straw) or energy crops (e.g. miscanthus), with the former largely negating food competition concerns. In order to assess the sustainability of feedstock supply for SGBs, the financial, environmental and energy costs and benefits of the farm system must be quantified. Previous research has captured financial costs and benefits through linear programming (LP) approaches, whilst environmental and energy metrics have been largely been undertaken within life cycle analysis (LCA) frameworks. Assessing aspects of the financial, environmental and energy sustainability of supplying co-product second generation biofuel (CPSGB) feedstocks at the farm level requires a framework that permits the trade-offs between these objectives to be quantified and understood. The development of a modelling framework for Managing Energy and Emissions Trade-Offs in Agriculture (MEETA Model) that combines bio-economic process modelling and LCA is presented together with input data parameters obtained from literature and industry sources. The MEETA model quantifies arable farm inputs and outputs in terms of financial, energy and emissions results. The model explicitly captures fertiliser: crop-yield relationships, plus the incorporation of straw or removal for sale, with associated nutrient impacts of incorporation/removal on the following crop in the rotation. Key results of crop-mix, machinery use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per kg of crop product and energy use per hectare are in line with previous research and industry survey findings. Results show that the gross margin – energy trade-off is £36 GJ−1, representing the gross margin forgone by maximising net farm energy cf. maximising farm gross margin. The gross margin–GHG emission trade-off is £0.15 kg−1 CO2 eq, representing the gross margin forgone per kg of CO2 eq reduced when GHG emissions are minimised cf. maximising farm gross margin. The energy–GHG emission trade-off is 0.03 GJ kg−1 CO2 eq quantifying the reduction in net energy from the farm system per kg of CO2 eq reduced when minimising GHG emissions cf. maximising net farm energy. When both farm gross margin and net farm energy are maximised all the cereal straw is baled for sale. Sensitivity analysis of the model in relation to different prices of cereal straw shows that it becomes financially optimal to incorporate wheat straw at price of £11 t−1 for this co-product. Local market conditions for straw and farmer attitudes towards incorporation or sale of straw will impact on the straw price at which farmers will supply this potential bioenergy feedstock and represent important areas for future research.
PMCID: PMC4268688  PMID: 25540473
Bioenergy; Cereal straw; Greenhouse gas emissions; Modelling; Farm systems
21.  Expanding xylose metabolism in yeast for plant cell wall conversion to biofuels 
eLife  null;4:e05896.
Sustainable biofuel production from renewable biomass will require the efficient and complete use of all abundant sugars in the plant cell wall. Using the cellulolytic fungus Neurospora crassa as a model, we identified a xylodextrin transport and consumption pathway required for its growth on hemicellulose. Reconstitution of this xylodextrin utilization pathway in Saccharomyces cerevisiae revealed that fungal xylose reductases act as xylodextrin reductases, producing xylosyl-xylitol oligomers as metabolic intermediates. These xylosyl-xylitol intermediates are generated by diverse fungi and bacteria, indicating that xylodextrin reduction is widespread in nature. Xylodextrins and xylosyl-xylitol oligomers are then hydrolyzed by two hydrolases to generate intracellular xylose and xylitol. Xylodextrin consumption using a xylodextrin transporter, xylodextrin reductases and tandem intracellular hydrolases in cofermentations with sucrose and glucose greatly expands the capacity of yeast to use plant cell wall-derived sugars and has the potential to increase the efficiency of both first-generation and next-generation biofuel production.
eLife digest
Plants can be used to make ‘biofuels’, which are more sustainable alternatives to traditional fuels made from petroleum. Unfortunately, most biofuels are currently made from simple sugars or starch extracted from parts of plants that we also use for food, such as the grains of cereal crops.
Making biofuels from the parts of the plant that are not used for food—for example, the stems or leaves—would enable us to avoid a trade-off between food and fuel production. However, most of the sugars in these parts of the plant are locked away in the form of large, complex carbohydrates called cellulose and hemicellulose, which form the rigid cell wall surrounding each plant cell.
Currently, the industrial processes that can be used to make biofuels from plant cell walls are expensive and use a lot of energy. They involve heating or chemically treating the plant material to release the cellulose and hemicellulose. Then, large quantities of enzymes are added to break these carbohydrates down into simple sugars that can then be converted into alcohol (a biofuel) by yeast.
Fungi may be able to provide us with a better solution. Many species are able to grow on plants because they can break down cellulose and hemicellulose into simple sugars they can use for energy. If the genes involved in this process could be identified and inserted into yeast it may provide a new, cheaper method to make biofuels from plant cell walls.
To address this challenge, Li et al. studied how the fungus Neurospora crassa breaks down hemicellulose. This study identified a protein that can transport molecules of xylodextrin—which is found in hemicellulose—into the cells of the fungus, and two enzymes that break down the xylodextrin to make simple sugars, using a previously unknown chemical intermediate. When Li et al. inserted the genes that make the transport protein and the enzymes into yeast, the yeast were able to use plant cell wall material to make simple sugars and convert these to alcohol.
The yeast used more of the xylodextrin when they were grown with an additional source of energy, such as the sugars glucose or sucrose. Li et al.'s findings suggest that giving yeast the ability to break down hemicellulose has the potential to improve the efficiency of biofuel production. The next challenge will be to improve the process so that the yeast can convert the xylodextrin and simple sugars more rapidly.
PMCID: PMC4338637  PMID: 25647728
xylose; hemicellulose; biofuel; xylodextrin; cofermentation; xylosyl-xylitol; B. subtilis; E. coli; N. crassa; S. cerevisiae; Other
22.  Scale-up and evaluation of high solid ionic liquid pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis of switchgrass 
Ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment is receiving significant attention as a potential process that enables fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass and produces high yields of fermentable sugars suitable for the production of renewable fuels. However, successful optimization and scale up of IL pretreatment involves challenges, such as high solids loading, biomass handling and transfer, washing of pretreated solids and formation of inhibitors, which are not addressed during the development stages at the small scale in a laboratory environment. As a first in the research community, the Joint BioEnergy Institute, in collaboration with the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit, a Department of Energy funded facility that supports academic and industrial entities in scaling their novel biofuels enabling technologies, have performed benchmark studies to identify key challenges associated with IL pretreatment using 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate and subsequent enzymatic saccharification beyond bench scale.
Using switchgrass as the model feedstock, we have successfully executed 600-fold, relative to the bench scale (6 L vs 0.01 L), scale-up of IL pretreatment at 15% (w/w) biomass loading. Results show that IL pretreatment at 15% biomass generates a product containing 87.5% of glucan, 42.6% of xylan and only 22.8% of lignin relative to the starting material. The pretreated biomass is efficiently converted into monosaccharides during subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis at 10% loading over a 150-fold scale of operations (1.5 L vs 0.01 L) with 99.8% fermentable sugar conversion. The yield of glucose and xylose in the liquid streams were 94.8% and 62.2%, respectively, and the hydrolysate generated contains high titers of fermentable sugars (62.1 g/L of glucose and 5.4 g/L cellobiose). The overall glucan and xylan balance from pretreatment and saccharification were 95.0% and 77.1%, respectively. Enzymatic inhibition by [C2mim][OAc] at high solids loadings requires further process optimization to obtain higher yields of fermentable sugars.
Results from this initial scale up evaluation indicate that the IL-based conversion technology can be effectively scaled to larger operations and the current study establishes the first scaling parameters for this conversion pathway but several issues must be addressed before a commercially viable technology can be realized, most notably reduction in water consumption and efficient IL recycle.
PMCID: PMC3817576  PMID: 24160440
Scale-up; Pretreatment; Saccharification; Ionic liquid; High solid loading; Viscosity; Inhibition
23.  Life-cycle energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of production of bioethanol from sorghum in the United States 
The availability of feedstock options is a key to meeting the volumetric requirement of 136.3 billion liters of renewable fuels per year beginning in 2022, as required in the US 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. Life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of sorghum-based ethanol need to be assessed for sorghum to play a role in meeting that requirement.
Multiple sorghum-based ethanol production pathways show diverse well-to-wheels (WTW) energy use and GHG emissions due to differences in energy use and fertilizer use intensity associated with sorghum growth and differences in the ethanol conversion processes. All sorghum-based ethanol pathways can achieve significant fossil energy savings. Relative to GHG emissions from conventional gasoline, grain sorghum-based ethanol can reduce WTW GHG emissions by 35% or 23%, respectively, when wet or dried distillers grains with solubles (DGS) is the co-product and fossil natural gas (FNG) is consumed as the process fuel. The reduction increased to 56% or 55%, respectively, for wet or dried DGS co-production when renewable natural gas (RNG) from anaerobic digestion of animal waste is used as the process fuel. These results do not include land-use change (LUC) GHG emissions, which we take as negligible. If LUC GHG emissions for grain sorghum ethanol as estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are included (26 g CO2e/MJ), these reductions when wet DGS is co-produced decrease to 7% or 29% when FNG or RNG is used as the process fuel. Sweet sorghum-based ethanol can reduce GHG emissions by 71% or 72% without or with use of co-produced vinasse as farm fertilizer, respectively, in ethanol plants using only sugar juice to produce ethanol. If both sugar and cellulosic bagasse were used in the future for ethanol production, an ethanol plant with a combined heat and power (CHP) system that supplies all process energy can achieve a GHG emission reduction of 70% or 72%, respectively, without or with vinasse fertigation. Forage sorghum-based ethanol can achieve a 49% WTW GHG emission reduction when ethanol plants meet process energy demands with CHP. In the case of forage sorghum and an integrated sweet sorghum pathway, the use of a portion of feedstock to fuel CHP systems significantly reduces fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions.
This study provides new insight into life-cycle energy use and GHG emissions of multiple sorghum-based ethanol production pathways in the US. Our results show that adding sorghum feedstocks to the existing options for ethanol production could help in meeting the requirements for volumes of renewable, advanced and cellulosic bioethanol production in the US required by the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard program.
PMCID: PMC3850671  PMID: 24088388
Grain sorghum; Sweet sorghum; Forage sorghum; Ethanol; Life-cycle analysis; Greenhouse gas emissions
24.  Development of microorganisms for cellulose-biofuel consolidated bioprocessings: metabolic engineers’ tricks 
Cellulose waste biomass is the most abundant and attractive substrate for “biorefinery strategies” that are aimed to produce high-value products (e.g. solvents, fuels, building blocks) by economically and environmentally sustainable fermentation processes. However, cellulose is highly recalcitrant to biodegradation and its conversion by biotechnological strategies currently requires economically inefficient multistep industrial processes. The need for dedicated cellulase production continues to be a major constraint to cost-effective processing of cellulosic biomass.
Research efforts have been aimed at developing recombinant microorganisms with suitable characteristics for single step biomass fermentation (consolidated bioprocessing, CBP). Two paradigms have been applied for such, so far unsuccessful, attempts: a) “native cellulolytic strategies”, aimed at conferring high-value product properties to natural cellulolytic microorganisms; b) “recombinant cellulolytic strategies”, aimed to confer cellulolytic ability to microorganisms exhibiting high product yields and titers.
By starting from the description of natural enzyme systems for plant biomass degradation and natural metabolic pathways for some of the most valuable product (i.e. butanol, ethanol, and hydrogen) biosynthesis, this review describes state-of-the-art bottlenecks and solutions for the development of recombinant microbial strains for cellulosic biofuel CBP by metabolic engineering. Complexed cellulases (i.e. cellulosomes) benefit from stronger proximity effects and show enhanced synergy on insoluble substrates (i.e. crystalline cellulose) with respect to free enzymes. For this reason, special attention was held on strategies involving cellulosome/designer cellulosome-bearing recombinant microorganisms.
PMCID: PMC3962139  PMID: 24688667
metabolic engineering; butanol; ethanol; hydrogen; cellulosome; cellulase
25.  Metabolic engineering of Clostridium cellulolyticum for the production of n-butanol from crystalline cellulose 
Sustainable alternatives for the production of fuels and chemicals are needed to reduce our dependency on fossil resources and to avoid the negative impact of their excessive use on the global climate. Lignocellulosic feedstock from agricultural residues, energy crops and municipal solid waste provides an abundant and carbon-neutral alternative, but it is recalcitrant towards microbial degradation and must therefore undergo extensive pretreatment to release the monomeric sugar units used by biofuel-producing microbes. These pretreatment steps can be reduced by using microbes such as Clostridium cellulolyticum that naturally digest lignocellulose, but this limits the range of biofuels that can be produced. We therefore developed a metabolic engineering approach in C. cellulolyticum to expand its natural product spectrum and to fine tune the engineered metabolic pathways.
Here we report the metabolic engineering of C. cellulolyticum to produce n-butanol, a next-generation biofuel and important chemical feedstock, directly from crystalline cellulose. We introduced the CoA-dependent pathway for n-butanol synthesis from C. acetobutylicum and measured the expression of functional enzymes (using targeted proteomics) and the abundance of metabolic intermediates (by LC-MS/MS) to identify potential bottlenecks in the n-butanol biosynthesis pathway. We achieved yields of 40 and 120 mg/L n-butanol from cellobiose and crystalline cellulose, respectively, after cultivating the bacteria for 6 and 20 days.
The analysis of enzyme activities and key intracellular metabolites provides a robust framework to determine the metabolic flux through heterologous pathways in C. cellulolyticum, allowing further improvements by fine tuning individual steps to improve the yields of n-butanol.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12934-015-0406-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4711022  PMID: 26758196
Metabolic engineering; Clostridium cellulolyticum; Biofuels; Butanol; Clostridia

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