Strategies for Increased Bio-Based Fuels - with a Focus on Biotechnology Solutions to Recalcitrance

Davison, B. H., BioEnergy Science Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory

First generation cellulosic biofuel processes are under development. Although biofuels production has the same key requirements as other existing energy supply chains, biofuels are a unique multi-factorial problem. Consideration must be given to the land used for feedstock production, the feedstocks employed (e.g., dedicated energy crops), the process technologies used (e.g., thermochemical conversion, fermentation), and the products.

Modern biotechnology has the potential to impact many aspects of the biomass supply chain. For example, technological advances in feedstock production (e.g., enhancing crop yield by genetic modification or selection of specific natural variants) and process technologies (e.g., development of advanced enzymes or bacteria for the conversion of biomass) will impact future costs of possible biofuel supply chains. Other biotechnological advances may increase the production of fungible biofuels and bioproducts.

However, recalcitrance, or overcoming the inability to easily access the sugars from lignocellulose to make fuels or products, is one of the major challenges for cost-effective biofuel production. The primary goal of the Department of Energy-funded BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) is to enable the emergence of a sustainable cellulosic biofuels industry by leading advances in science and innovation resulting in removal of recalcitrance as an economic barrier. Transformative advances to understand biomass recalcitrance require detailed scientific knowledge of (1) the chemical and physical properties of biomass that influence recalcitrance, (2) how these properties can be altered by engineering plant biosynthetic pathways, and (3) how such changes affect biomass-biocatalyst interactions during deconstruction by improved enzymes and microorganisms.  (