Princeton researchers led by José Avalos, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, have devised a new platform for breaking down cellulose and using it as a biofuel.
Cellulose, which is found in all plants, is the world’s most abundant organic compound. But cellulose is notoriously hard to process.
“It first has to be broken down into individual sugar molecules before it can be turned into fuel," said Shannon Hoffman, a graduate student in chemical and biological engineering and one of the study's lead authors. "Our paper shows a new and more effective way to break down the cellulose for use in biofuel production."
Their platform uses a recently developed cellulose emulsion that makes it easier to metabolize the compound into other chemicals. Combining that emulsion with engineered microbes and a light-based genetic tool, the team showed that they could more efficiently make biofuels from cellulose. The new process speeds up an otherwise slow chemical process and in some cases doubles energy yields over comparable methods.
Cellulosic biomass has long been seen as a key ingredient in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, providing the feedstock for a renewable and clean-burning transportation fuel.