The Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Alfalfa Stalks for Use As a Biofuel Resource | AIChE

The Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Alfalfa Stalks for Use As a Biofuel Resource


Wade, E. - Presenter, New Mexico State University

Most biofuel resources, especially plant sources, have two key issues: farming space and slow growth. After overexpressing the sucrose phosphate synthase gene (SPS) in Medicago sativa (alfalfa) plants, large differences in phenotype and growth rate were seen in the plant. While the leaves of the alfalfa plants can be used for animal forage, the stems of the alfalfa can be fractionated into sugars that can then be fermented into bioethanols. This technique could solve the growth problem faced by bioethanol producers. 

The purpose of the project was to fractionate and analyze the extractability of fermentable sugars from a control and several transgenic species that show overexpression in the SPS gene. Using a strong acid pre-treatment and enzymatic hydrolysis to break down the cellulose into glucose, the alfalfa stalks were fractionated then analyzed using ultraviolet spectroscopy with anthrone as an indicator for glucose content. Two of the three tested transgenic species were shown to have more glucose content per gram than the control species (2-4% more glucose/gram). A further development of the overexpression technique can lead to faster growth, increased concentration of fermentable carbohydrates, and larger crop yields.