Deconstruction

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GLBRC's Deconstruction Research Area

Deconstruction

GLBRC's Deconstruction Lead takes top academic slot

Located at the intersection of the U.S.’s agricultural heartland and its northern forests, the GLBRC has access to a rich diversity of raw biomass for study. The Center's Deconstruction research focuses on identifying the best combinations of enzymes, chemicals, and physical processing methods for enhancing the digestibility of specific biomass sources.

Learn about the Center's research approach

Deconstruction Leadership

Deconstruction Lead

Dale is an expert on making ethanol from cellulose, plant stalks, grass, corn cobs and other woody plant parts and has developed a patented process called ammonia fiber expansion (AFEXTM), which makes the breakdown of cellulose more efficient, thus tackling...

Deconstruction Lead

Fox's research goals are to define the structure and the reactivity of the active site diiron center, to probe the catalytic contributions of the active site protein residues and to determine the consequences of protein-protein and protein-substrate interactions on the...

Project Overview

A biofuels reactor designed to produce ethanol at Michigan State University's Biomass Conversion Research Lab (BCRL)GLBRC Deconstruction research maintains a focus on the entire biofuels production pipeline: in addition to identifying and improving natural cellulose-degrading enzymes extracted from diverse environments, researchers apply unique biomass pretreatment technologies—such as ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX™), alkaline hydrogen peroxide (AHP), and extractive ammonia (EA)—that enable conversion technologies to maximize plant biomass utilization.. Researchers also explore strategies to add value to these processes by developing co-products from materials that would otherwise be treated as waste, such as lignin. Specific deconstruction projects include:

  • Pretreatment effects on biomass, alkaline peroxide pretreatment, fuel production from alkaline-pretreated biomass
  • Optimization of enzymes for biomass conversion, discovery of natural cellulolytic microbes, identification of novel microbial enzymes, and combinatorial discovery of enzymes and proteins

Deconstruction Publications

Sessions 3 and 8: Pretreatment and biomass recalcitrance: fundamentals and progress

Y-H Percival Zhang; Eric Berson; Simo Sarkanen; Bruce E. Dale

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2009

Overcoming lignocellulosic biomass recalcitrance followed by enzymatic hydrolysis of structural polymeric carbohydrates (i.e., cost-efficient liberation of fermentable sugars) is perhaps the most challenging technical and economic barrier to success of biorefineries [1–3]. Lignocellulosic biomass is a natural composite having three main biopolymers (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) intertwined chemically and physically.

Symbiotic nitrogen fixation in the fungus gardens of leaf-cutter ants

Adrian A. Pinto-Tomas; Mark A. Anderson; Garret Suen; David M. Stevenson; Fiona S.T. Chu; Wallace Cleland; Paul J. Weimer; Cameron R. Currie

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2009

Bacteria-mediated acquisition of atmospheric N2 serves as a critical source of nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. Here we reveal that symbiotic nitrogen fixation facilitates the cultivation of specialized fungal crops by leaf-cutter ants. By using acetylene reduction and stable isotope experiments, we demonstrated that N2 fixation occurred in the fungus gardens of eight leaf-cutter ant species and, further, that this fixed nitrogen was incorporated into ant biomass. Symbiotic N2-fixing bacteria were consistently isolated from the fungus gardens of 80 leaf-cutter ant colonies collected in Argentina, Costa Rica, and Panama. The discovery of N2 fixation within the leaf-cutter ant-microbe symbiosis reveals a previously unrecognized nitrogen source in neotropical ecosystems.

The impacts of pretreatment on the fermentability of pretreated lignocellulosic biomass: a comparative evaluation between ammonia fiber expansion and dilute acid pretreatment

Ming Lau; Christa Gunawan; Bruce Dale

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2009

Pretreatment chemistry is of central importance due to its impacts on cellulosic biomass processing and biofuels conversion. Ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX) and dilute acid are two promising pretreatments using alkaline and acidic pH that have distinctive differences in pretreatment chemistries.RESULTS:Comparative evaluation on these two pretreatments reveal that (i) AFEX-pretreated corn stover is significantly more fermentable with respect to cell growth and sugar consumption, (ii) both pretreatments can achieve more than 80% of total sugar yield in the enzymatic hydrolysis of washed pretreated solids, and (iii) while AFEX completely preserves plant carbohydrates, dilute acid pretreatment at 5% solids loading degrades 13% of xylose to byproducts.CONCLUSION:The selection of pretreatment will determine the biomass-processing configuration, requirements for hydrolysate conditioning (if any) and fermentation strategy. Through dilute acid pretreatment, the need for hemicellulase in biomass processing is negligible. AFEX-centered cellulosic technology can alleviate fermentation costs through reducing inoculum size and practically eliminating nutrient costs during bioconversion. However, AFEX requires supplemental xylanases as well as cellulase activity. As for long-term sustainability, AFEX has greater potential to diversify products from a cellulosic biorefinery due to lower levels of inhibitor generation and lignin loss.

The role of biomass in America’s energy future: framing the analysis

Lee R. Lynd; Eric Larson; Nathanael Greene; Mark Laser; John Sheehan; Bruce E. Dale; Samuel McLaughlin; Michael Wang

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2009

The Role of Biomass in America’s Energy Future (RBAEF) project, initiated during the fi rst half of 2003, has sought to identify and evaluate paths by which biomass can make a large contribution to energy services and determine means to accelerate biomass energy use. In addressing these issues, the study has focused on future, mature, technologies rather than today’s technology. This perspective – the fi rst of eight papers that comprise this issue – introduces the project, providing an operative defi nition of and method for estimating mature technology, a rationale for choosing the model feedstock, a list of the conversion technologies considered, and as a point of reference, a brief overview of the energy fl ows through a typical petroleum refi nery. The subsequent papers are introduced as well.

Ancient fungal farmers of the insect world

Garret Suen; Cameron R. Currie

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2008

Take a stroll through a rain forest in South America and you might find yourself walking in a river, not of water, but of leaves. Leaf-cutter ants swarm in the underbrush, carrying their precious cargo back to their nest with an apparent single-minded determination. This conspicuous behaviour has made these ants one of the most dominant herbivores in the Neotropics, and one of the most successful social insects in nature. A closer look at the ants reveals that they are ancient farmers, having developed the secret of agriculture over 50 million years ago. Using their freshly-cut leaves, they incorporate them into gardens where they grow a specialized fungus that they consume for food. This relationship between ant and fungus has been described as a breakthrough in animal behaviour, and parallels the practice of sustainable agriculture in humans, arguably the most important development in human civilization that, in our opinion, resulted in the dominance of humans on planet Earth.

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