Scientists try using nature’s approach to break down biomass
for cellulosic ethanol
It looks like a chunk of wood.
It looks like a small piece of a big tree, something you might grab two-handed to toss into the campfire. Pick it up, and it feels like florist’s foam. It’s light as a dry sponge and flakes away under the weight of your fingers.
What it is is the skeleton of a tree branch: a framework of lignin picked clean of its cellulose mass. The rotted wood is a builder’s nightmare.
It also is a biorefiner’s dream. The sugar compounds that comprise the bulk of all plant tissue, cellulose and hemicellulose, are the building blocks for cellulosic ethanol, a potentially sustainable alternative to fossil-based fuels The challenge is freeing those carbohydrates, unharmed, from the lignin glue that protects it. So far the world has failed to find a way to do it effectively or affordably. Read the story . . .
Note: The item appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Solutions, published by the University of Minnesota’s College of Agricultural, Food and Natural Resource Sciences. Written by Sarah Specht, the article (linked above) covers research efforts in studying the role of fungi in breaking down lignin so that cellulose is more accessible for making ethanol and other bio-products.