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Journal: Biotechnology for biofuels


BACKGROUND: The recalcitrance of lignocellulosic cell wall biomass to deconstruction varies greatly in angiosperms, yet the source of this variation remains unclear. Here, in eight genotypes of short rotation coppice willow (Salix sp.) variability of the reaction wood (RW) response and the impact of this variation on cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification was considered. RESULTS: A pot trial was designed to test if the ‘RW response’ varies between willow genotypes and contributes to the differences observed in cell wall recalcitrance to enzymatic saccharification in field-grown trees. Biomass composition was measured via wet chemistry and used with glucose release yields from enzymatic saccharification to determine cell wall recalcitrance. The levels of glucose release found for pot-grown control trees showed no significant correlation with glucose release from mature field-grown trees. However, when a RW phenotype was induced in pot-grown trees, glucose release was strongly correlated with that for mature field-grown trees. Field studies revealed a 5-fold increase in glucose release from a genotype grown at a site exposed to high wind speeds (a potentially high RW inducing environment) when compared with the same genotype grown at a more sheltered site. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings provide evidence for a new concept concerning variation in the recalcitrance to enzymatic hydrolysis of the stem biomass of different, field-grown willow genotypes (and potentially other angiosperms). Specifically, that genotypic differences in the ability to produce a response to RW inducing conditions (a ‘RW response’) indicate that this RW response is a primary determinant of the variation observed in cell wall glucan accessibility. The identification of the importance of this RW response trait in willows, is likely to be valuable in selective breeding strategies in willow (and other angiosperm) biofuel crops and, with further work to dissect the nature of RW variation, could provide novel targets for genetic modification for improved biofuel feedstocks.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Enzyme, Biofuel, Willow


BACKGROUND: Lignin is often overlooked in the valorization of lignocellulosic biomass, but lignin-based materials and chemicals represent potential value-added products for biorefineries that could significantly improve the economics of a biorefinery. Fluctuating crude oil prices and changing fuel specifications are some of the driving factors to develop new technologies that could be used to convert polymeric lignin into low molecular weight lignin and or monomeric aromatic feedstocks to assist in the displacement of the current products associated with the conversion of a whole barrel of oil. We present an approach to produce these chemicals based on the selective breakdown of lignin during ionic liquid pretreatment. RESULTS: The lignin breakdown products generated are found to be dependent on the starting biomass, and significant levels were generated on dissolution at 160[degree sign]C for 6 hrs. Guaiacol was produced on dissolution of biomass and technical lignins. Vanillin was produced on dissolution of kraft lignin and eucalytpus. Syringol and allyl guaiacol were the major products observed on dissolution of switchgrass and pine, respectively, whereas syringol and allyl syringol were obtained by dissolution of eucalyptus. Furthermore, it was observed that different lignin-derived products could be generated by tuning the process conditions. CONCLUSIONS: We have developed an ionic liquid based process that depolymerizes lignin and converts the low molecular weight lignin fractions into a variety of renewable chemicals from biomass. The generated chemicals (phenols, guaiacols, syringols, eugenol, catechols), their oxidized products (vanillin, vanillic acid, syringaldehyde) and their easily derivatized hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene, biphenyls and cyclohexane) already have relatively high market value as commodity and specialty chemicals, green building materials, nylons, and resins.

Concepts: Gasoline, Petroleum, Benzene, Lignin, Phenols, Vanillin, Guaiacol, Eugenol


The considerable increase in biodiesel production worldwide in the last 5 years resulted in a stoichiometric increased coproduction of crude glycerol. As an excess of crude glycerol has been produced, its value on market was reduced and it is becoming a “waste-stream” instead of a valuable “coproduct”. The development of biorefineries, i.e. production of chemicals and power integrated with conversion processes of biomass into biofuels, has been singled out as a way to achieve economically viable production chains, valorize residues and coproducts, and reduce industrial waste disposal. In this sense, several alternatives aimed at the use of crude glycerol to produce fuels and chemicals by microbial fermentation have been evaluated. This review summarizes different strategies employed to produce biofuels and chemicals (1,3-propanediol, 2,3-butanediol, ethanol, n-butanol, organic acids, polyols and others) by microbial fermentation of glycerol. Initially, the industrial use of each chemical is briefly presented; then we systematically summarize and discuss the different strategies to produce each chemical, including selection and genetic engineering of producers, and optimization of process conditions to improve yield and productivity. Finally, the impact of the developments obtained until now are placed in perspective and opportunities and challenges for using crude glycerol to the development of biodiesel-based biorefineries are considered. In conclusion, the microbial fermentation of glycerol represents a remarkable alternative to add value to the biodiesel production chain helping the development of biorefineries, which will allow this biofuel to be more competitive.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Ethanol, Petroleum, Anaerobic digestion, Biofuel, Glycerol, Biomass, Biodiesel


BACKGROUND: The inherent recalcitrance of lignocellulosic biomass is one of the major economic hurdles for the production of fuels and chemicals from biomass. Additionally, lignin is recognized as having a negative impact on enzymatic hydrolysis of biomass, and as a result much interest has been placed on modifying the lignin pathway to improve bioconversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks. RESULTS: Down-regulation of the caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the lignin pathway yielded switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that was more susceptible to bioconversion after dilute acid pretreatment. Here we examined the response of these plant lines to milder pretreatment conditions with yeast-based simultaneous saccharification and fermentation and a consolidated bioprocessing approach using Clostridium thermocellum, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii and Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis. Unlike the S. cerevisiae SSF conversions, fermentations of pretreated transgenic switchgrass with C. thermocellum showed an apparent inhibition of fermentation not observed in the wild-type switchgrass. This inhibition can be eliminated by hot water extraction of the pretreated biomass, which resulted in superior conversion yield with transgenic versus wild-type switchgrass for C. thermocellum, exceeding the yeast-based SSF yield. Further fermentation evaluation of the transgenic switchgrass indicated differential inhibition for the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains, which could not be rectified by additional processing conditions. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) metabolite profiling was used to examine the fermentation broth to elucidate the relative abundance of lignin derived aromatic compounds. The types and abundance of fermentation-derived-lignin constituents varied between C. thermocellum and each of the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains. CONCLUSIONS: The down-regulation of the COMT gene improves the bioconversion of switchgrass relative to the wild-type regardless of the pretreatment condition or fermentation microorganism. However, bacterial fermentations demonstrated strain-dependent sensitivity to the COMT transgenic biomass, likely due to additional soluble lignin pathway-derived constituents resulting from the COMT gene disruption. Removal of these inhibitory constituents permitted completion of fermentation by C. thermocellum, but not by the Caldicellulosiruptor sp. strains. The reason for this difference in performance is currently unknown.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Molecular biology, Enzyme, Yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cellulosic ethanol, Panicum


BACKGROUND: Lignin is one of the three major components in plant cell walls, and it can be isolated (dissolved) from the cell wall in pretreatment or chemical pulping. However, there is a lack of high-value applications for lignin, and the commonest proposal for lignin is power and steam generation through combustion. Organosolv ethanol process is one of the effective pretreatment methods for woody biomass for cellulosic ethanol production, and kraft process is a dominant chemical pulping method in paper industry. In the present research, the lignins from organosolv pretreatment and kraft pulping were evaluated to replace polyol for producing rigid polyurethane foams (RPFs). RESULTS: Petroleum-based polyol was replaced with hardwood ethanol organosolv lignin (HEL) or hardwood kraft lignin (HKL) from 25% to 70% (molar percentage) in preparing rigid polyurethane foam. The prepared foams contained 12-36% (w/w) HEL or 9-28% (w/w) HKL. The density, compressive strength, and cellular structure of the prepared foams were investigated and compared. Chain extenders were used to improve the properties of the RPFs. CONCLUSIONS: It was found that lignin was chemically crosslinked not just physically trapped in the rigid polyurethane foams. The lignin-containing foams had comparable structure and strength up to 25-30% (w/w) HEL or 19-23% (w/w) HKL addition. The results indicated that HEL performed much better in RPFs and could replace more polyol at the same strength than HKL because the former had a better miscibility with the polyol than the latter. Chain extender such as butanediol could improve the strength of lignin-containing RPFs.

Concepts: Cell, Cell wall, Lignin, Cellulose, Polyurethane, Wood, Pulp and paper industry, Kraft process


BACKGROUND: Lignin materials are abundant and among the most important potential sources for biofuel production. Development of an efficient lignin degradation process has considerable potential for the production of a variety of chemicals, including bioethanol. However, lignin degradation using current methods is inefficient. Given their immense environmental adaptability and biochemical versatility, bacterial could be used as a valuable tool for the rapid degradation of lignin. Kraft lignin (KL) is a polymer by-product of the pulp and paper industry resulting from alkaline sulfide treatment of lignocellulose, and it has been widely used for lignin-related studies. RESULTS: Beta-proteobacterium Cupriavidus basilensis B-8 isolated from erosive bamboo slips displayed substantial KL degradation capability. With initial concentrations of 0.5–6 g L-1, at least 31.3% KL could be degraded in 7 days. The maximum degradation rate was 44.4% at the initial concentration of 2 g L-1. The optimum pH and temperature for KL degradation were 7.0 and 30[degree sign]C, respectively. Manganese peroxidase (MnP) and laccase (Lac) demonstrated their greatest level of activity, 1685.3 U L-1 and 815.6 U L-1, at the third and fourth days, respectively. Many small molecule intermediates were formed during the process of KL degradation, as determined using GC-MS analysis. In order to perform metabolic reconstruction of lignin degradation in this bacterium, a draft genome sequence for C. basilensis B-8 was generated. Genomic analysis focused on the catabolic potential of this bacterium against several lignin-derived compounds. These analyses together with sequence comparisons predicted the existence of three major metabolic pathways: beta-ketoadipate, phenol degradation, and gentisate pathways. CONCLUSION: These results confirmed the capability of C. basilensis B-8 to promote KL degradation. Whole genomic sequencing and systematic analysis of the C. basilensis B-8 genome identified degradation steps and intermediates from this bacterial-mediated KL degradation method. Our findings provide a theoretical basis for research into the mechanisms of lignin degradation as well as a practical basis for biofuel production using lignin materials.

Concepts: DNA, Bacteria, Metabolism, Enzyme, Human Genome Project, Genome, Lignin, Metabolic pathway


BACKGROUND: During cellulosic ethanol production, cellulose hydrolysis is achieved by synergetic action of cellulase enzyme complex consisting of multiple enzymes with different mode of actions. Enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose is one of the bottlenecks in the commercialization of the process due to low hydrolysis rates and high cost of enzymes. A robust hydrolysis model that can predict hydrolysis profile under various scenarios can act as an important forecasting tool to improve the hydrolysis process. However, multiple factors affecting hydrolysis: cellulose structure and complex enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis make it diffucult to develop mathematical kinetic models that can simulate hydrolysis in presence of multiple enzymes with high fidelity. In this study, a comprehensive hydrolysis model based on stochastic molecular modeling approch in which each hydrolysis event is translated into a discrete event is presented. The model captures the structural features of cellulose, enzyme properties (mode of actions, synergism, inhibition), and most importantly dynamic morphological changes in the substrate that directly affect the enzyme-substrate interactions during hydrolysis. RESULTS: Cellulose was modeled as a group of microfibrils consisting of elementary fibrils bundles, where each elementary fibril was represented as a three dimensional matrix of glucose molecules. Hydrolysis of cellulose was simulated based on Monte Carlo simulation technique. Cellulose hydrolysis results predicted by model simulations agree well with the experimental data from literature. Coefficients of determination for model predictions and experimental values were in the range of 0.75 to 0.96 for Avicel hydrolysis by CBH I action. Model was able to simulate the synergistic action of multiple enzymes during hydrolysis. The model simulations captured the important experimental observations: effect of structural properties, enzyme inhibition and enzyme loadings on the hydrolysis and degree of synergism among enzymes. CONCLUSIONS: The model was effective in capturing the dynamic behavior of cellulose hydrolysis during action of individual as well as multiple cellulases. Simulations were in qualitative and quantitative agreement with experimental data. Several experimentally observed phenomena were simulated without the need for any additional assumptions or parameter changes and confirmed the validity of using the stochastic molecular modeling approach to quantitatively and qualitatively describe the cellulose hydrolysis.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Starch, Simulation, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Cellulosic ethanol, Cellulase


Fuel ethanol production from sustainable and largely abundant agro-residues such as sugarcane bagasse (SB) provides long term, geopolitical and strategic benefits. Pretreatment of SB is an inevitable process for improved saccharification of cell wall carbohydrates. Recently, ammonium hydroxide-based pretreatment technologies have gained significance as an effective and economical pretreatment strategy. We hypothesized that soaking in concentrated aqueous ammonia-mediated thermochemical pretreatment (SCAA) would overcome the native recalcitrance of SB by enhancing cellulase accessibility of the embedded holocellulosic microfibrils.

Concepts: Ammonia, Ethanol, Cellulose, Hydrolysis, Biofuel, Ethanol fuel, Sugarcane, Bagasse


Propane (C3H8) is a volatile hydrocarbon with highly favourable physicochemical properties as a fuel, in addition to existing global markets and infrastructure for storage, distribution and utilization in a wide range of applications. Consequently, propane is an attractive target product in research aimed at developing new renewable alternatives to complement currently used petroleum-derived fuels. This study focuses on the construction and evaluation of alternative microbial biosynthetic pathways for the production of renewable propane. The new pathways utilize CoA intermediates that are derived from clostridial-like fermentative butanol pathways and are therefore distinct from the first microbial propane pathways recently engineered in Escherichia coli.

Concepts: Gasoline, Petroleum, Escherichia coli, Hydrocarbon, Natural gas, Combustion, Fuel, Propane


Feedstock recalcitrance is the most important barrier impeding cost-effective production of cellulosic biofuels. Pioneer commercial cellulosic ethanol facilities employ thermochemical pretreatment and addition of fungal cellulase, reflecting the main research emphasis in the field. However, it has been suggested that it may be possible to process cellulosic biomass without thermochemical pretreatment using thermophilic, cellulolytic bacteria. To further explore this idea, we examine the ability of various biocatalysts to solubilize autoclaved but otherwise unpretreated cellulosic biomass under controlled but not industrial conditions.

Concepts: Enzyme, Glucose, Fungus, Ethanol, Starch, Cellulose, Biofuel, Cellulosic ethanol