Biotechnology offers new ways of production using biological materials, organisms and systems. Leading research in this area enables the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, biodegradable polymers, renewable fuels, and other bio-based products from diverse feedstocks.
Faculty are developing new crops for improved disease and pest resistance and adaptation to changing climate and conditions. We are also improving waste treatment and conversion, reducing environmental impact and enhancing overall sustainability. Examples include the following and more:
New microbial strains with modified biochemical pathways for biofuels and bioproducts
Enzyme systems to improve biomass conversion for biofuels, biochemcials, and other bioproducts
Nanomaterials and soft-tissue engineering for new fibers and textiles, biocarbons and energy storage technologies
Algal cultivation systems and improved understanding of algal metabolomics for advanced biofuels
Novel anaerobic systems for waste management and biogas production
Thermochemical conversion processes for bioenergy and biofuels
"In situ cross-linking of alginate during spray-drying to microencapsulate lipids in powder": Microencapsulation of emulsified lipophilic bioactive compounds in dry, cross-linked alginate microcapsules (CLAMs) is a promising strategy to facilitate their incorporation into food systems, prolong shelf life, and target delivery within the gastrointestinal tract. However, current technology to produce CLAMs requires multiple time- and energy-intensive unit operations...Coupled with the scalability of this novel CLAM production method, the successful encapsulation of the model lipid suggests that spray-dried CLAMs may be of commercial use for incorporating lipophilic compounds into foods.
"Assessing cellulose microfibrillar structure changes due to cellulase action": There is a need to understand how cellulose structural properties impact productive cellulase–cellulose interactions toward solving the mechanisms of the heterogeneous reaction. We coupled biochemical studies of cellulose hydrolysis by a purified Trichoderma reesei Cel7A (TrCel7A) cellobiohydrolase with atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study the impact of the cellulolytic activity on the fibrillar structure of cellulose...We observed extensive fibrillation of BC fibrils to ∼3 nm microfibrils during the course of hydrolysis by TrCel7A, leaving thinned un-fibrillated recalcitrant fibrils at >80% hydrolysis extents. Additionally, this remaining fraction appeared to be segmented along the fibril length."
Cellobionic Acid as Viable Carbon Source for Biofuel Producation
"Isobutanol produciton from cellobionic acid in Escherichia coli": Liquid fuels needed for the global transportation industry can be produced from sugars derived from plant-based lignocellulosics. Lignocellulosics contain a range of sugars, only some of which (such as cellulose) have been shown to be utilizable by microorganisms capable of producing biofuels. Cellobionic acid makes up a small but significant portion of lignocellulosic degradation products, and had not previously been investigated as an utilizable substrate...This study describes the discovery that Escherichia coli are naturally able to utilize cellobionic acid as a sole carbon source with efficiency comparable to that of glucose and the construction of an a E. coli strain able to produce the drop-in biofuel candidate isobutanol from cellobionic acid...These results demonstrate that cellobionic acid is a viable carbon source for biofuel production.
"Economic sustainability modeling provides decision support for assessing hybrid poplar-based biofuel development in California":
Biofuels are expected to play a major role in meeting California's long-term energy needs, but many factors influence the commercial viability of the various feedstock and production technology options. We developed a spatially explicit analytic framework that integrates models of plant growth, crop adoption, feedstock location, transportation logistics, economic impact, biorefinery costs and biorefinery energy use and emissions...However, there are major obstacles to such large-scale production, including, on nonarable lands, low poplar yields and broad spatial distribution and, on croplands, competition with existing crops. We estimated the production cost of jet fuel to be $4.40 to $5.40 per gallon for poplar biomass grown on nonarable lands and $3.60 to $4.50 per gallon for biomass grown on irrigated cropland; the current market price is $2.12 per gallon.