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1.  Manipulation of plant architecture to enhance lignocellulosic biomass 
AoB Plants  2012;2012:pls026.
Generating biofuel crops with higher biomass and bioethanol yield is inevitable to meet growing demands of renewable energy. Manipulation of phytohormone-related genes that control plant architecture via biotechnological and functional genomics tools adapted from model species will accelerate crop improvement.
Biofuels hold the promise to replace an appreciable proportion of fossil fuels. Not only do they emit significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gases, they are much closer to being ‘carbon neutral’, since the source plants utilize carbon dioxide for their growth. In particular, second-generation lignocellulosic biofuels from agricultural wastes and non-food crops such as switchgrass promise sustainability and avoid diverting food crops to fuel. Currently, available lignocellulosic biomass could yield sufficient bioethanol to replace ∼10 % of worldwide petroleum use. Increasing the biomass used for biofuel production and the yield of bioethanol will thus help meet global energy demands while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We discuss the advantages of various biotechnological approaches to improve crops and highlight the contribution of genomics and functional genomics in this field. Current knowledge concerning plant hormones and their intermediates involved in the regulation of plant architecture is presented with a special focus on gibberellins and cytokinins, and their signalling intermediates. We highlight the potential of information gained from model plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana and rice (Oryza sativa) to accelerate improvement of fuel crops.
PMCID: PMC3471074  PMID: 23071897
2.  Towards a carbon-negative sustainable bio-based economy 
The bio-based economy relies on sustainable, plant-derived resources for fuels, chemicals, materials, food and feed rather than on the evanescent usage of fossil resources. The cornerstone of this economy is the biorefinery, in which renewable resources are intelligently converted to a plethora of products, maximizing the valorization of the feedstocks. Innovation is a prerequisite to move a fossil-based economy toward sustainable alternatives, and the viability of the bio-based economy depends on the integration between plant (green) and industrial (white) biotechnology. Green biotechnology deals with primary production through the improvement of biomass crops, while white biotechnology deals with the conversion of biomass into products and energy. Waste streams are minimized during these processes or partly converted to biogas, which can be used to power the processing pipeline. The sustainability of this economy is guaranteed by a third technology pillar that uses thermochemical conversion to valorize waste streams and fix residual carbon as biochar in the soil, hence creating a carbon-negative cycle. These three different multidisciplinary pillars interact through the value chain of the bio-based economy.
PMCID: PMC3669761  PMID: 23761802
biomass; lignocellulose; saccharification; fermentation; anaerobic digestion; pyrolysis; biochar
3.  From petrochemistry to biotech: a European perspective on the bio-based economy 
Interface Focus  2011;1(2):189-195.
This paper gives an account of the issues at play in Europe with regard to the transition to a bio-based economy. Agricultural crops have always been used for the production of food, feed, fibre and fuel. The Model T Ford—the first mass produced car—originally ran on bioethanol, and wood has been in use as a source for energy ever since the discovery of fire. What is new is that the balance between agricultural uses is changing under the pressure of an increasing need for food and feed, as well as the new need for biofuels and biomaterials. At the basis of this change lie several serious issues related to the current use of bio-based feedstock to secure energy supply, the future depletion of natural resources and global climate change. Innovations in industrial biotechnology are expected to play a crucial role in dealing with these issues in biomass use.
PMCID: PMC3262260
bio-based feedstock; biomass use; bioconversion
4.  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
5.  Xylose Isomerase Improves Growth and Ethanol Production Rates from Biomass Sugars for Both Saccharomyces Pastorianus and Saccharomyces Cerevisiae 
Biotechnology progress  2012;28(3):669-680.
The demand for biofuel ethanol made from clean, renewable nonfood sources is growing. Cellulosic biomass, such as switch grass (Panicum virgatum L.), is an alternative feedstock for ethanol production; however, cellulosic feedstock hydrolysates contain high levels of xylose, which needs to be converted to ethanol to meet economic feasibility. In this study, the effects of xylose isomerase on cell growth and ethanol production from biomass sugars representative of switch grass were investigated using low cell density cultures. The lager yeast species Saccharomyces pastorianus was grown with immobilized xylose isomerase in the fermentation step to determine the impact of the glucose and xylose concentrations on the ethanol production rates. Ethanol production rates were improved due to xylose isomerase; however, the positive effect was not due solely to the conversion of xylose to xylulose. Xylose isomerase also has glucose isomerase activity, so to better understand the impact of the xylose isomerase on S. pastorianus, growth and ethanol production were examined in cultures provided fructose as the sole carbon. It was observed that growth and ethanol production rates were higher for the fructose cultures with xylose isomerase even in the absence of xylose. To determine whether the positive effects of xylose isomerase extended to other yeast species, a side-by-side comparison of S. pastorianus and Saccharomyces cerevisiae was conducted. These comparisons demonstrated that the xylose isomerase increased ethanol productivity for both the yeast species by increasing the glucose consumption rate. These results suggest that xylose isomerase can contribute to improved ethanol productivity, even without significant xylose conversion.
PMCID: PMC3719973  PMID: 22866331
xylose; ethanol; xylose isomerase; yeast; Saccharomyces pastorianus; Saccharomyces cerevisiae
6.  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
7.  Comparison of sugar content for ionic liquid pretreated Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues 
The development of affordable woody biomass feedstocks represents a significant opportunity in the development of cellulosic biofuels. Primary woodchips produced by forest mills are considered an ideal feedstock, but the prices they command on the market are currently too expensive for biorefineries. In comparison, forestry residues represent a potential low-cost input but are considered a more challenging feedstock for sugar production due to complexities in composition and potential contamination arising from soil that may be present. We compare the sugar yields, changes in composition in Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues after pretreatment using ionic liquids and enzymatic saccharification in order to determine if this approach can efficiently liberate fermentable sugars.
These samples were either mechanically milled through a 2 mm mesh or pretreated as received with the ionic liquid (IL) 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate [C2mim][OAc] at 120°C and 160°C. IL pretreatment of Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues resulted in approximately 71-92% glucose yields after enzymatic saccharification. X-ray diffraction (XRD) showed that the pretreated cellulose was less crystalline after IL pretreatment as compared to untreated control samples. Two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (2D-NMR) revealed changes in lignin and hemicellulose structure and composition as a function of pretreatment. Mass balances of sugar and lignin streams for both the Douglas-fir woodchips and forestry residues throughout the pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification processes are presented.
While the highest sugar yields were observed with the Douglas-fir woodchips, reasonably high sugar yields were obtained from forestry residues after ionic liquid pretreatment. Structural changes to lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose in the woodchips and forestry residues of Douglas-fir after [C2mim][OAc] pretreatment are analyzed by XRD and 2D-NMR, and indicate that significant changes occurred. Irrespective of the particle sizes used in this study, ionic liquid pretreatment successfully allowed high glucose yields after enzymatic saccharification. These results indicate that forestry residues may be a more viable feedstock than previously thought for the production of biofuels.
PMCID: PMC3672072  PMID: 23635001
Lignocellulose; Biomass pretreatment; Ionic liquid pretreatment; Douglas-fir; Softwood; Woodchips; Forestry residues; 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate
8.  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
9.  Food Security: Crops for People Not for Cars 
Ambio  2010;39(3):249-256.
Humankind is currently faced with the huge challenge of securing a sustainable energy supply and biofuels constitute one of the major options. However, the commercially traded edible crops are barely sufficient to meet food demand of the present world population. Certain regions, for example EU-27, do not even have a sufficient indigenous crop production. Of this follows that motor biofuels based on edible crops should be avoided. To replace more than some percent of the fossil motor fuels, non-edible biomass—rest products and wastes—should instead be considered for conversion to biofuels. In this way, about 10% of the current fossil fuels can be replaced. Feeding a world population expected to grow by some 50% during the next 50 years will be a major challenge. For environmental reasons it seems that agricultural land cannot be expanded very much, maybe not at all. The solution to the increasing food demand seems therefore to be using the present crop production more efficiently and increasing output from present agricultural land, maintaining biodiversity and climate stability within reasonable limits. In the future, agriculture will need more energy and more water irrigation. Food production is, however, already very energy demanding, requiring several times more externally provided energy than the energy content of the food itself. A sufficient energy supply will be a key issue for the future farming!
PMCID: PMC3357639  PMID: 20701181
Agriculture; Food; Biofuel; Cropland; Residues; Energy
10.  An overview of key pretreatment processes employed for bioconversion of lignocellulosic biomass into biofuels and value added products 
3 Biotech  2013;3(5):415-431.
The hunt for alternative sources of energy generation that are inexpensive, ecofriendly, renewable and can replace fossil fuels is on, owing to the increasing demands of energy. One approach in this direction is the conversion of plant residues into biofuels wherein lignocellulose, which forms the structural framework of plants consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, is first broken down and hydrolyzed into simple fermentable sugars, which upon fermentation form biofuels such as ethanol. A major bottleneck is to disarray lignin which is present as a protective covering and makes cellulose and hemicellulose recalcitrant to enzymatic hydrolysis. A number of biomass deconstruction or pretreatment processes (physical, chemical and biological) have been used to break the structural framework of plants and depolymerize lignin. This review surveys and discusses some major pretreatment processes pertaining to the pretreatment of plant biomass, which are used for the production of biofuels and other value added products. The emphasis is given on processes that provide maximum amount of sugars, which are subsequently used for the production of biofuels.
PMCID: PMC3781263
Pretreatment; Biomass; Lignin; Cellulose; Biofuel
11.  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.
12.  Development of an electrotransformation protocol for genetic manipulation of Clostridium pasteurianum 
Reducing the production cost of, and increasing revenues from, industrial biofuels will greatly facilitate their proliferation and co-integration with fossil fuels. The cost of feedstock is the largest cost in most fermentation bioprocesses and therefore represents an important target for cost reduction. Meanwhile, the biorefinery concept advocates revenue growth through complete utilization of by-products generated during biofuel production. Taken together, the production of biofuels from low-cost crude glycerol, available in oversupply as a by-product of bioethanol production, in the form of thin stillage, and biodiesel production, embodies a remarkable opportunity to advance affordable biofuel development. However, few bacterial species possess the natural capacity to convert glycerol as a sole source of carbon and energy into value-added bioproducts. Of particular interest is the anaerobe Clostridium pasteurianum, the only microorganism known to convert glycerol alone directly into butanol, which currently holds immense promise as a high-energy biofuel and bulk chemical. Unfortunately, genetic and metabolic engineering of C. pasteurianum has been fundamentally impeded due to lack of an efficient method for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) transfer.
This work reports the development of an electrotransformation protocol permitting high-level DNA transfer to C. pasteurianum ATCC 6013 together with accompanying selection markers and vector components. The CpaAI restriction-modification system was found to be a major barrier to DNA delivery into C. pasteurianum which we overcame by in vivo methylation of the recognition site (5’-CGCG-3’) using the M.FnuDII methyltransferase. With proper selection of the replication origin and antibiotic-resistance marker, we initially electroporated methylated DNA into C. pasteurianum at a low efficiency of 2.4 × 101 transformants μg-1 DNA by utilizing conditions common to other clostridial electroporations. Systematic investigation of various parameters involved in the cell growth, washing and pulse delivery, and outgrowth phases of the electrotransformation procedure significantly elevated the electrotransformation efficiency, up to 7.5 × 104 transformants μg-1 DNA, an increase of approximately three order of magnitude. Key factors affecting the electrotransformation efficiency include cell-wall-weakening using glycine, ethanol-mediated membrane solubilization, field strength of the electric pulse, and sucrose osmoprotection.
C. pasteurianum ATCC 6013 can be electrotransformed at a high efficiency using appropriately methylated plasmid DNA. The electrotransformation method and tools reported here should promote extensive genetic manipulation and metabolic engineering of this biotechnologically important bacterium.
PMCID: PMC3658993  PMID: 23570573
Biofuels; Butanol; Biobutanol; Clostridium pasteurianum; Electroporation; Genetic engineering; Glycerol; Methylation; Restriction; Transformation
13.  Molecular Breeding of Advanced Microorganisms for Biofuel Production 
Large amounts of fossil fuels are consumed every day in spite of increasing environmental problems. To preserve the environment and construct a sustainable society, the use of biofuels derived from different kinds of biomass is being practiced worldwide. Although bioethanol has been largely produced, it commonly requires food crops such as corn and sugar cane as substrates. To develop a sustainable energy supply, cellulosic biomass should be used for bioethanol production instead of grain biomass. For this purpose, cell surface engineering technology is a very promising method. In biobutanol and biodiesel production, engineered host fermentation has attracted much attention; however, this method has many limitations such as low productivity and low solvent tolerance of microorganisms. Despite these problems, biofuels such as bioethanol, biobutanol, and biodiesel are potential energy sources that can help establish a sustainable society.
PMCID: PMC3035169  PMID: 21318120
14.  Biogas from Macroalgae: is it time to revisit the idea? 
The economic and environmental viability of dedicated terrestrial energy crops is in doubt. The production of large scale biomass (macroalgae) for biofuels in the marine environment was first tested in the late 1960’s. The culture attempts failed due to the engineering challenges of farming offshore. However the energy conversion via anaerobic digestion was successful as the biochemical composition of macroalgae makes it an ideal feedstock. The technology for the mass production of macroalgae has developed principally in China and Asia over the last 50 years to such a degree that it is now the single largest product of aquaculture. There has also been significant technology transfer and macroalgal cultivation is now well tried and tested in Europe and America. The inherent advantage of production of biofuel feedstock in the marine environment is that it does not compete with food production for land or fresh water. Here we revisit the idea of the large scale cultivation of macroalgae at sea for subsequent anaerobic digestion to produce biogas as a source of renewable energy, using a European case study as an example.
PMCID: PMC3542030  PMID: 23186536
Biogas; Methane; Anaerobic digestion; Seaweed; Macroalgae; Aquaculture
15.  The commercial performance of cellulosic ethanol supply-chains in Europe 
The production of fuel-grade ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass resources has the potential to increase biofuel production capacity whilst minimising the negative environmental impacts. These benefits will only be realised if lignocellulosic ethanol production can compete on price with conventional fossil fuels and if it can be produced commercially at scale. This paper focuses on lignocellulosic ethanol production in Europe. The hypothesis is that the eventual cost of production will be determined not only by the performance of the conversion process but by the performance of the entire supply-chain from feedstock production to consumption. To test this, a model for supply-chain cost comparison is developed, the components of representative ethanol supply-chains are described, the factors that are most important in determining the cost and profitability of ethanol production are identified, and a detailed sensitivity analysis is conducted.
The most important cost determinants are the cost of feedstocks, primarily determined by location and existing markets, and the value obtained for ethanol, primarily determined by the oil price and policy incentives. Both of these factors are highly uncertain. The best performing chains (ethanol produced from softwood and sold as a low percentage blend with gasoline) could ultimately be cost competitive with gasoline without requiring subsidy, but production from straw would generally be less competitive.
Supply-chain design will play a critical role in determining commercial viability. The importance of feedstock supply highlights the need for location-specific assessments of feedstock availability and price. Similarly, the role of subsidies and policy incentives in creating and sustaining the ethanol market highlights the importance of political engagement and the need to include political risks in investment appraisal. For the supply-chains described here, and with the cost and market parameters selected, selling ethanol as a low percentage blend with gasoline will maximise ethanol revenues and minimise the need for subsidies. It follows, therefore, that the market for low percentage blends should be saturated before markets for high percentage blends.
PMCID: PMC2654549  PMID: 19192294
16.  Assessing the molecular structure basis for biomass recalcitrance during dilute acid and hydrothermal pretreatments 
The production of cellulosic ethanol from biomass is considered a promising alternative to reliance on diminishing supplies of fossil fuels, providing a sustainable option for fuels production in an environmentally compatible manner. The conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels through a biological route usually suffers from the intrinsic recalcitrance of biomass owing to the complicated structure of plant cell walls. Currently, a pretreatment step that can effectively reduce biomass recalcitrance is generally required to make the polysaccharide fractions locked in the intricacy of plant cell walls to become more accessible and amenable to enzymatic hydrolysis. Dilute acid and hydrothermal pretreatments are attractive and among the most promising pretreatment technologies that enhance sugar release performance. This review highlights our recent understanding on molecular structure basis for recalcitrance, with emphasis on structural transformation of major biomass biopolymers (i.e., cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) related to the reduction of recalcitrance during dilute acid and hydrothermal pretreatments. The effects of these two pretreatments on biomass porosity as well as its contribution on reduced recalcitrance are also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3575271  PMID: 23356640
Biomass recalcitrance; Dilute acid pretreatment; Hydrothermal pretreatment; Cellulose structure; Structural transformation
17.  A cellular automaton model of crystalline cellulose hydrolysis by cellulases 
Cellulose from plant biomass is an abundant, renewable material which could be a major feedstock for low emissions transport fuels such as cellulosic ethanol. Cellulase enzymes that break down cellulose into fermentable sugars are composed of different types - cellobiohydrolases I and II, endoglucanase and β-glucosidase - with separate functions. They form a complex interacting network between themselves, soluble hydrolysis product molecules, solution and solid phase substrates and inhibitors. There have been many models proposed for enzymatic saccharification however none have yet employed a cellular automaton approach, which allows important phenomena, such as enzyme crowding on the surface of solid substrates, denaturation and substrate inhibition, to be considered in the model.
The Cellulase 4D model was developed de novo taking into account the size and composition of the substrate and surface-acting enzymes were ascribed behaviors based on their movements, catalytic activities and rates, affinity for, and potential for crowding of, the cellulose surface, substrates and inhibitors, and denaturation rates. A basic case modeled on literature-derived parameters obtained from Trichoderma reesei cellulases resulted in cellulose hydrolysis curves that closely matched curves obtained from published experimental data. Scenarios were tested in the model, which included variation of enzyme loadings, adsorption strengths of surface acting enzymes and reaction periods, and the effect on saccharide production over time was assessed. The model simulations indicated an optimal enzyme loading of between 0.5 and 2 of the base case concentrations where a balance was obtained between enzyme crowding on the cellulose crystal, and that the affinities of enzymes for the cellulose surface had a large effect on cellulose hydrolysis. In addition, improvements to the cellobiohydrolase I activity period substantially improved overall glucose production.
Cellulase 4D simulates the enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose to glucose by surface and solution phase-acting enzymes and accounts for complex phenomena that have previously not been included in cellulose hydrolysis models. The model is intended as a tool for industry, researchers and educators alike to explore options for enzyme engineering and process development and to test hypotheses regarding cellulase mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3214134  PMID: 22005054
18.  Energy Efficiency Analysis: Biomass-to-Wheel Efficiency Related with Biofuels Production, Fuel Distribution, and Powertrain Systems 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22113.
Energy efficiency analysis for different biomass-utilization scenarios would help make more informed decisions for developing future biomass-based transportation systems. Diverse biofuels produced from biomass include cellulosic ethanol, butanol, fatty acid ethyl esters, methane, hydrogen, methanol, dimethyether, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and bioelectricity; the respective powertrain systems include internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles based on gasoline or diesel ICEs, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, sugar fuel cell vehicles (SFCV), and battery electric vehicles (BEV).
Methodology/Principal Findings
We conducted a simple, straightforward, and transparent biomass-to-wheel (BTW) analysis including three separate conversion elements -- biomass-to-fuel conversion, fuel transport and distribution, and respective powertrain systems. BTW efficiency is a ratio of the kinetic energy of an automobile's wheels to the chemical energy of delivered biomass just before entering biorefineries. Up to 13 scenarios were analyzed and compared to a base line case – corn ethanol/ICE. This analysis suggests that BEV, whose electricity is generated from stationary fuel cells, and SFCV, based on a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with an on-board sugar-to-hydrogen bioreformer, would have the highest BTW efficiencies, nearly four times that of ethanol-ICE.
In the long term, a small fraction of the annual US biomass (e.g., 7.1%, or 700 million tons of biomass) would be sufficient to meet 100% of light-duty passenger vehicle fuel needs (i.e., 150 billion gallons of gasoline/ethanol per year), through up to four-fold enhanced BTW efficiencies by using SFCV or BEV. SFCV would have several advantages over BEV: much higher energy storage densities, faster refilling rates, better safety, and less environmental burdens.
PMCID: PMC3135615  PMID: 21765941
19.  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
20.  High level expression of Acidothermus cellulolyticus β-1, 4-endoglucanase in transgenic rice enhances the hydrolysis of its straw by cultured cow gastric fluid 
Large-scale production of effective cellulose hydrolytic enzymes is the key to the bioconversion of agricultural residues to ethanol. The goal of this study was to develop a rice plant as a bioreactor for the large-scale production of cellulose hydrolytic enzymes via genetic transformation, and to simultaneously improve rice straw as an efficient biomass feedstock for conversion of cellulose to glucose.
In this study, the cellulose hydrolytic enzyme β-1, 4-endoglucanase (E1) gene, from the thermophilic bacterium Acidothermus cellulolyticus, was overexpressed in rice through Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. The expression of the bacterial E1 gene in rice was driven by the constitutive Mac promoter, a hybrid promoter of Ti plasmid mannopine synthetase promoter and cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter enhancer, with the signal peptide of tobacco pathogenesis-related protein for targeting the E1 protein to the apoplastic compartment for storage. A total of 52 transgenic rice plants from six independent lines expressing the bacterial E1 enzyme were obtained that expressed the gene at high levels without severely impairing plant growth and development. However, some transgenic plants exhibited a shorter stature and flowered earlier than the wild type plants. The E1 specific activities in the leaves of the highest expressing transgenic rice lines were about 20-fold higher than those of various transgenic plants obtained in previous studies and the protein amounts accounted for up to 6.1% of the total leaf soluble protein. A zymogram and temperature-dependent activity analyses demonstrated the thermostability of the E1 enzyme and its substrate specificity against cellulose, and a simple heat treatment can be used to purify the protein. In addition, hydrolysis of transgenic rice straw with cultured cow gastric fluid for one hour at 39°C and another hour at 81°C yielded 43% more reducing sugars than wild type rice straw.
Taken together, these data suggest that transgenic rice can effectively serve as a bioreactor for the large-scale production of active, thermostable cellulose hydrolytic enzymes. As a feedstock, direct expression of large amount of cellulases in transgenic rice may also facilitate saccharification of cellulose in rice straw and significantly reduce the costs for hydrolytic enzymes.
PMCID: PMC3307496  PMID: 22152050
21.  Engineering of plants with improved properties as biofuels feedstocks by vessel-specific complementation of xylan biosynthesis mutants 
Cost-efficient generation of second-generation biofuels requires plant biomass that can easily be degraded into sugars and further fermented into fuels. However, lignocellulosic biomass is inherently recalcitrant toward deconstruction technologies due to the abundant lignin and cross-linked hemicelluloses. Furthermore, lignocellulosic biomass has a high content of pentoses, which are more difficult to ferment into fuels than hexoses. Engineered plants with decreased amounts of xylan in their secondary walls have the potential to render plant biomass a more desirable feedstock for biofuel production.
Xylan is the major non-cellulosic polysaccharide in secondary cell walls, and the xylan deficient irregular xylem (irx) mutants irx7, irx8 and irx9 exhibit severe dwarf growth phenotypes. The main reason for the growth phenotype appears to be xylem vessel collapse and the resulting impaired transport of water and nutrients. We developed a xylan-engineering approach to reintroduce xylan biosynthesis specifically into the xylem vessels in the Arabidopsis irx7, irx8 and irx9 mutant backgrounds by driving the expression of the respective glycosyltransferases with the vessel-specific promoters of the VND6 and VND7 transcription factor genes. The growth phenotype, stem breaking strength, and irx morphology was recovered to varying degrees. Some of the plants even exhibited increased stem strength compared to the wild type. We obtained Arabidopsis plants with up to 23% reduction in xylose levels and 18% reduction in lignin content compared to wild-type plants, while exhibiting wild-type growth patterns and morphology, as well as normal xylem vessels. These plants showed a 42% increase in saccharification yield after hot water pretreatment. The VND7 promoter yielded a more complete complementation of the irx phenotype than the VND6 promoter.
Spatial and temporal deposition of xylan in the secondary cell wall of Arabidopsis can be manipulated by using the promoter regions of vessel-specific genes to express xylan biosynthetic genes. The expression of xylan specifically in the xylem vessels is sufficient to complement the irx phenotype of xylan deficient mutants, while maintaining low overall amounts of xylan and lignin in the cell wall. This engineering approach has the potential to yield bioenergy crop plants that are more easily deconstructed and fermented into biofuels.
PMCID: PMC3537538  PMID: 23181474
Xylan; Irregular xylem mutant; Secondary cell wall; VND6; VND7; Transcription factors; Biofuels; Pentoses; Saccharification; Lignin
22.  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
metabolic engineering; butanol; ethanol; hydrogen; cellulosome; cellulase
23.  β-Glucosidases from the Fungus Trichoderma: An Efficient Cellulase Machinery in Biotechnological Applications 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:203735.
β-glucosidases catalyze the selective cleavage of glucosidic linkages and are an important class of enzymes having significant prospects in industrial biotechnology. These are classified in family 1 and family 3 of glycosyl hydrolase family. β-glucosidases, particularly from the fungus Trichoderma, are widely recognized and used for the saccharification of cellulosic biomass for biofuel production. With the rising trends in energy crisis and depletion of fossil fuels, alternative strategies for renewable energy sources need to be developed. However, the major limitation accounts for low production of β-glucosidases by the hyper secretory strains of Trichoderma. In accordance with the increasing significance of β-glucosidases in commercial applications, the present review provides a detailed insight of the enzyme family, their classification, structural parameters, properties, and studies at the genomics and proteomics levels. Furthermore, the paper discusses the enhancement strategies employed for their utilization in biofuel generation. Therefore, β-glucosidases are prospective toolbox in bioethanol production, and in the near future, it might be successful in meeting the requirements of alternative renewable sources of energy.
PMCID: PMC3747355  PMID: 23984325
24.  Ethanol Distribution, Dispensing, and Use: Analysis of a Portion of the Biomass-to-Biofuels Supply Chain Using System Dynamics 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e35082.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 targets use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022. Achieving this may require substantial changes to current transportation fuel systems for distribution, dispensing, and use in vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory designed a system dynamics approach to help focus government action by determining what supply chain changes would have the greatest potential to accelerate biofuels deployment. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed the Biomass Scenario Model, a system dynamics model which represents the primary system effects and dependencies in the biomass-to-biofuels supply chain. The model provides a framework for developing scenarios and conducting biofuels policy analysis. This paper focuses on the downstream portion of the supply chain–represented in the distribution logistics, dispensing station, and fuel utilization, and vehicle modules of the Biomass Scenario Model. This model initially focused on ethanol, but has since been expanded to include other biofuels. Some portions of this system are represented dynamically with major interactions and feedbacks, especially those related to a dispensing station owner’s decision whether to offer ethanol fuel and a consumer’s choice whether to purchase that fuel. Other portions of the system are modeled with little or no dynamics; the vehicle choices of consumers are represented as discrete scenarios. This paper explores conditions needed to sustain an ethanol fuel market and identifies implications of these findings for program and policy goals. A large, economically sustainable ethanol fuel market (or other biofuel market) requires low end-user fuel price relative to gasoline and sufficient producer payment, which are difficult to achieve simultaneously. Other requirements (different for ethanol vs. other biofuel markets) include the need for infrastructure for distribution and dispensing and widespread use of high ethanol blends in flexible-fuel vehicles.
PMCID: PMC3351488  PMID: 22606230
25.  Survey of renewable chemicals produced from lignocellulosic biomass during ionic liquid pretreatment 
Lignin is often overlooked in the valorization of lignocellulosic biomass, but lignin-based materials and chemicals represent potential value-added products for biorefineries that could significantly improve the economics of a biorefinery. Fluctuating crude oil prices and changing fuel specifications are some of the driving factors to develop new technologies that could be used to convert polymeric lignin into low molecular weight lignin and or monomeric aromatic feedstocks to assist in the displacement of the current products associated with the conversion of a whole barrel of oil. We present an approach to produce these chemicals based on the selective breakdown of lignin during ionic liquid pretreatment.
The lignin breakdown products generated are found to be dependent on the starting biomass, and significant levels were generated on dissolution at 160°C for 6 hrs. Guaiacol was produced on dissolution of biomass and technical lignins. Vanillin was produced on dissolution of kraft lignin and eucalytpus. Syringol and allyl guaiacol were the major products observed on dissolution of switchgrass and pine, respectively, whereas syringol and allyl syringol were obtained by dissolution of eucalyptus. Furthermore, it was observed that different lignin-derived products could be generated by tuning the process conditions.
We have developed an ionic liquid based process that depolymerizes lignin and converts the low molecular weight lignin fractions into a variety of renewable chemicals from biomass. The generated chemicals (phenols, guaiacols, syringols, eugenol, catechols), their oxidized products (vanillin, vanillic acid, syringaldehyde) and their easily derivatized hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, biphenyls and cyclohexane) already have relatively high market value as commodity and specialty chemicals, green building materials, nylons, and resins.
PMCID: PMC3579681  PMID: 23356589
Lignin valorization; Ionic liquid pretreatment; Renewable chemicals; Biofuels

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