The need for a sustainable, renewable source of transportation fuels has been recognized for a long time; however, the availability of inexpensive oil has largely obscured the urgency for its development. Recent political and economic events have highlighted the fragility of our dependence on foreign oil and reinvigorated a longer-term perspective on the need to provide a sustainable source of domestically-produced transportation fuel. Many fuel production alternatives are being proposed, ranging from purely thermochemical, to hybrid and to entirely biological production. As potential concedes to process performance, economics will sort out the best production options.
degrading over time. One of the main products of C. phytofermentans cellulose hydrolysis and fermentation is ethanol.
The Curtis Lab research in converting plant biomass to biofuels has the goal of a simplified process that can be scaled down to an 'on farm' fuel production sustem to minimize costs associated with biomass transport. Key elements are using multiple organisms to achieve a 'division of labor' for breaking down the biomass and subsequent conversion to fuel. We have demonstrated that oxygen transport rats can be used to control the populations of the two organisms. Ongoing work involves translating success of ethanol fermentation to an alternative hydrocarbon-producting consortium.
We are also interested in utilizing low-cost bioreactor design and operational principles. In particular, we had developed a plastic-lined bioreactor to facilitate a low capital investment process paradigm.
Tangential efforts have included a comparison of 'white-rot' fungi to accomplish pre-treatment of biomass by consuming lignin to make the cellulose more accessible. The biofilm behavior of the cellulytic microorganism, C. phytofermentans has also been studied. An ethanol-tolerant strain of C. phytofermentans has also been metabolically-engineered for improved ethanol production.
Researchers: Trevor Zuroff, Salvador Barri Xiques, Rachel Fore, Ramya Muhandass, Taylor Maher, Patrick Hillery, Alex Rajangam.
More papers / presentations / patents:
Hillery, Patrick. The Process Design and Economic Analysis of a Farm-scale System for Producing Ethanol and Hydrocarbon (botryococcene) Fuels from a Lignocellulosic Substrate. Dissertation. Penn State University: University Park, PA (2014).
Maher, Taylor. Application of two different fungal species for biological pretreatment in an integrated lignocellulosic biofuels paradigm. Dissertation. Penn State University: University Park, PA (2014).
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