Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2013-03-22 15:15:00
  • Article ID: 600768

Researcher Studies Biofuel Butanol for Next Generation of Alternative Fuels

Maobing Tu, Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, (334) 844-8829 (mtu@auburn.edu), or

Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – A research project to improve efficiency in the biorefining process for butanol production from forest and agricultural biomass has been launched by Maobing Tu, an assistant professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

Tu said his study, titled “Carbonyl Inhibition of Butanol Production from Biomass Hydrolysates by Clostridium acetobutylicum,” will be a significant step toward making butanol production economically viable.

He said the work also will be helpful in the design and manufacturing of machines used to produce butanol, and is expected to advance understanding of the chemical processes involved in biomass processing. A successful outcome for this project will significantly promote biofuels production, which has further positive implications for national energy security and independence.

“Butanol is one of the promising advanced biofuels being pursued by industry for the next generation of alternative fuels,” Tu said. “However, cost-effective production of butanol from lignocellulosic biomass is still challenging. In particular, hydrolysate inhibition limits butanol fermentation efficiency.”

Tu said butanol has several advantages over ethanol, including a higher energy content that is closer to gasoline. Unlike ethanol, butanol can be used in cars directly, without mixing or altering the vehicle. In addition, because ethanol can absorb water, it rusts pipes, making transportation a challenge.

Both biofuels can be derived from the same biomass materials, but butanol is more difficult to produce. This is due in part to sensitivity of microorganisms to toxic compounds generated in biomass pretreatment, which can either slow down or stop the fermentation process completely.

He said the process of producing butanol releases hydrolysates, which are basically liquified toxins. The toxins are naturally occurring substances in trees. These substances interfere with the fermentation that is part of the biorefining process and are one of the main obstacles to butanol being a commercially viable product. In his research, Tu will continue to identify what specific substances slow or stop the fermentation and determine how to neutralize these substances.

Tu’s research is funded by a five-year, $401,155 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award.

“Dr. Tu’s research will help solve technological barriers to producing cellulose-based liquid fuels that we can use to offset fossil fuels,” said James Shepard, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “We are very pleased that the value of his work has been recognized by the National Science Foundation.”

The CAREER program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards, honoring junior faculty who excel in research and teaching and integrating these roles at their institutions.

An important component of CAREER awards is the integration of teaching the next generation of scientists. Tu’s project includes plans to hire 20 undergraduate researchers from Auburn University and Tuskegee University, with special effort to recruit a diverse cohort of students.

Tu joined the Auburn faculty in 2008. He earned his doctorate from the University of British Columbia in 2007. He is the first CAREER award recipient from Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

For an image of Tu, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/auburnuniversity/8560830214/.

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Microbe Mystery Solved: What Happened to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Plume

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists haven't agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now a research team at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

New Class of 'Soft' Semiconductors Could Transform HD Displays

New research by Berkeley Lab scientists could help usher in a new generation of high-definition displays, optoelectronic devices, photodetectors, and more. They have shown that a class of "soft" semiconductors can be used to emit multiple, bright colors from a single nanowire at resolutions as small as 500 nanometers. The work could challenge quantum dot displays that rely upon traditional semiconductor nanocrystals to emit light.

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A new strategy for sending acoustic waves through water could potentially open up the world of high-speed communications to divers, marine research vessels, remote ocean monitors, deep sea robots, and submarines. By taking advantage of the dynamic rotation generated as the acoustic wave travels, also known as its orbital angular momentum, Berkeley Lab researchers were able to pack more channels onto a single frequency, effectively increasing the amount of information capable of being transmitted.

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Researchers created an atomically thin material at Berkeley Lab and used X-rays to measure its exotic and durable properties that make it a promising candidate for a budding branch of electronics known as "spintronics."

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Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Michigan State University are providing the clearest view yet of an intact bacterial microcompartment, revealing at atomic-level resolution the structure and assembly of the organelle's protein shell. This work can help provide important information for research in bioenergy, pathogenesis, and biotechnology.


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The Electrochemical Society and Toyota North America Announce 2017-2018 Fellowship Winners for Projects in Green Energy Technology

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship Selection Committee has chosen three winners who will receive $50,000 fellowship awards each for projects in green energy technology. The awardees are Dr. Ahmet Kusoglu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Professor Julie Renner, Case Western Reserve University; and Professor Shuhui Sun, Institut National de la Rechersche Scientifique (INRS).

Chicago Quantum Exchange to Create Technologically Transformative Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.

Seven Small Businesses to Collaborate with Argonne to Solve Technical Challenges

Seven small businesses have been selected to collaborate with researchers at Argonne to address technical challenges as part of DOE's Small Business Vouchers Program.


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New Class of Porous Materials Better Separates Carbon Dioxide from Other Gases

Enhanced stability in the presence of water could help reduce smokestack emissions of greenhouse gases.

Manipulating Earth-Abundant Materials to Harness the Sun's Energy

New material based on common iron ore can help turn intermittent sunlight and water into long-lasting fuel.

Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.

Mountaintop Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync

Plants and soil microbes may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning vital nutrient patterns could be misaligned.

If a Tree Falls in the Amazon

For the first time, scientists pinpointed how often storms topple trees, helping to predict how changes in Amazonia affect the world.

Turning Waste into Fuels, Microbial Style

A newly discovered metabolic process linking different bacteria in a community could enhance bioenergy production.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.


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