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    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.
    • 2017-07-05 13:15:53
    • Article ID: 677408

    Cutting the Cost of Ethanol, Other Biofuels and Gasoline

    Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University devise way to reduce the amount of enzymes needed to convert biomass into biofuels

    • Credit: Shishir Chundawat/Rutgers University and U.S. Department of Energy.

      Enzymes, genetically engineered to avoid sticking to the surfaces of biomass such as corn stalks, may lower costs in the production of cellulose-based biofuels like ethanol.

    • Credit: Rutgers/School of Engineering.

      Shishir P. S. Chundawat, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

    Biofuels like the ethanol in U.S. gasoline could get cheaper thanks to experts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University.

    They’ve demonstrated how to design and genetically engineer enzyme surfaces so they bind less to corn stalks and other cellulosic biomass, reducing enzyme costs in biofuels production, according to a study published this month on the cover of the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

    “The bottom line is we can cut down the cost of converting biomass into biofuels,” said Shishir P. S. Chundawat, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

    Typically, the enzymes tapped to help turn switchgrass, corn stover (corn stalks, leaves and other leftovers) and poplar into biofuels amount to about 20 percent of production costs, said Chundawat, whose department is in the School of Engineering. Enzymes cost about 50 cents per gallon of ethanol, so recycling or using fewer enzymes would make biofuels more inexpensive.

    In the United States, gasoline typically contains up to 10 percent ethanol and corn grain is the primary feedstock of ethanol, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Biorefineries produce about 15 billion gallons of ethanol a year.

    In the last few years, some refineries began converting the inedible parts of corn plants into ethanol, Chundawat said.

    “The challenge is breaking down cellulose (plant) material, using enzymes, into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol,” he said. “So any advances on making the enzyme processing step cheaper will make the cost of biofuel cheaper. This is a fairly intractable problem that requires you to attack it from various perspectives, so it does take time.”

    Biomass contains lignin, an organic polymer that binds to and strengthens plant fibers. But lignin inactivates enzymes that bind to it, hampering efforts to reduce enzyme use and costs, according to Chundawat.

    The Rutgers and Michigan State University researchers showed how specially designed enzymes (proteins) can limit their binding to and inactivation by lignin. That would ultimately lower enzyme use and make enzyme recycling feasible for biorefineries in the near future, Chundawat said.

    The study’s lead author is Professor Timothy Whitehead of Michigan State University. Other authors include Chandra K. Bandi, a doctoral student in Rutgers’ Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering; Marissa Berger, an undergraduate student in Rutgers’ Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Jihyun Park, a former undergraduate student in Rutgers’ Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. Professor Chundawat’s ongoing research on engineering enzymes for enabling low-cost biofuel production is supported primarily by the National Science Foundation Foundation (NSF Awards #1236120 & #1604421). 

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    A Breakthrough in the Study of Laser/Plasma Interactions

    A Breakthrough in the Study of Laser/Plasma Interactions

    A new 3D particle-in-cell simulation tool developed by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CEA Saclay is enabling cutting-edge simulations of laser/plasma coupling mechanisms. More detailed understanding of these mechanisms is critical to the development of ultra-compact particle accelerators and light sources.

    Researchers Create the First Maps of Two Melatonin Receptors Essential for Sleep

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    An international team of researchers used an X-ray laser at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to create the first detailed maps of two melatonin receptors that tell our bodies when to go to sleep or wake up and guide other biological processes. A better understanding of how they work could enable researchers to design better drugs to combat sleep disorders, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Their findings were published in two papers today in Nature.

    Capturing the behavior of single-atom catalysts on the move

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    Watching Molecules Split in Real Time

    Watching Molecules Split in Real Time

    Using a new X-ray technique, a team of researchers was able to watch in real time as a molecule split apart into two new molecules. The method could be used to look at chemical reactions that other techniques can't catch, for instance in catalysis, photovoltaics, peptide and combustion research. The team, led by researchers from Brown University in collaboration with the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, published their results in March in Angewandte Chemie.

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    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

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    Catalyst Renders Nerve Agents Harmless

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    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

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    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

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    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has named Tim Knewitz at its Chief Financial Officer.

    Department of Energy Announces $95 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

    U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry today announced that the Department of Energy will award 86 grants totaling $95 million to 74 small businesses in 21 states.

    DOE's Science Graduate Student Research Program Selects 70 Students to Pursue Research at DOE Laboratories

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    Brookhaven Joins the IBM Q Network Hub at Oak Ridge National Lab

    Brookhaven Joins the IBM Q Network Hub at Oak Ridge National Lab

    Brookhaven National Lab has joined the IBM Q Network Hub at Oak Ridge National Lab. This hub is part of an international community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, universities, and research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore its practical applications.

    David Reis named head of PULSE Institute for ultrafast science

    David Reis named head of PULSE Institute for ultrafast science

    Long before David Reis joined the faculty of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, he was helping lay the groundwork for the lab's first-of-a-kind X-ray free-electron laser, or XFEL, and the revolutionary science that followed its opening in 2009. Now he's director of the PULSE Institute, which was founded by SLAC and Stanford with the express purpose of exploiting the possibilities for ultrafast science at that X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

    Head of NSTX-U research is appointed deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Head of NSTX-U research is appointed deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    Jon Menard, the head of research on the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade, has been named deputy director for research. Michael Zarnstorff, who held the position for 10 years, will become the chief chief scientist at PPPL, a position that will oversee strategic scientific planning.

    Argonne scientist advances energy sciences through professional leadership

    Argonne scientist advances energy sciences through professional leadership

    Ralph Muehleisen of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently re-elected to the Board of Directors of IBPSA-USA, the U.S. affiliate of the International Building Performance Simulation Association. IBPSA is a global leader in the promotion of building simulation science and one of the largest professional organizations in the world for building scientists and engineers.

    Brookhaven Lab Publishes Second Edition of Nuclear Nonproliferation Textbook

    Brookhaven Lab Publishes Second Edition of Nuclear Nonproliferation Textbook

    Brookhaven Lab has published the second edition of Deterring Nuclear Proliferation: The Importance of IAEA Safeguards, a textbook that provides a history of the origins of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and introduces the ways in which IAEA verifies nation states' nuclear nonproliferation commitments.


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    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    First measurements of heat flux in plasmas experientially sheds light on models relying on classical thermal transport.

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    The Fusion Recurrent Neural Network reliably forecasts disruptive and destructive events in tokamaks.

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons that affect medical imaging and more.

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Antiquark spin contribution to proton spin depends on flavor, which could help unlock secrets about the nuclear structure of atoms that make up nearly all visible matter in our universe.

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    A precision measurement of the proton's weak charge narrows the search for new physics.

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Physicists develop a universal mathematical description that suggests that proton-neutron pairs in a nucleus may explain why their associated quarks have lower average momenta than predicted.

    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

    Team Takes Fluoride from Taps and Toothpaste to Batteries

    With user facilities, researchers devise novel battery chemistries to help make fluoride batteries a reality.

    Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton

    Quarks Under Pressure in the Proton

    Pressure in the middle of a proton is about 10 times higher than in a neutron star.

    Magnetic Levitation of Ultracold Neutrons Yields New Measurement of the Neutron Lifetime

    Magnetic Levitation of Ultracold Neutrons Yields New Measurement of the Neutron Lifetime

    Storing extremely slow neutrons in a novel trap enables precise measurement of a basic property of particle physics.


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