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Hydrogen sulfide greatly enhances plant growth: Key ingredient in mass extinctions could boost food, biofuel production

TGF-FruitImageApr. 17, 2013 — Hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, is a deadly substance implicated in several mass extinctions, including one at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species on Earth.

But in low doses, hydrogen sulfide could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.

“We found some very interesting things, including that at the very lowest levels plant health improves. But that’s not what we were looking for,” said Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research.

Dooley started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended. The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment. Still unconvinced, he repeated it again — and again, and again. In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now “a near certainty,” he said.

“Everything else that’s ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations,” he said.

The research is published online April 17 in PLOS ONE, a Public Library of Science journal.

At high concentrations — levels of 30 to 100 parts per million in water — hydrogen sulfide can be lethal to humans. At one part per million it emits a telltale rotten-egg smell. Dooley used a concentration of 1 part per billion or less to water seeds of peas, beans and wheat on a weekly basis. Treating the seeds less often reduced the effect, and watering more often typically killed them.

With wheat, all the seeds germinated in one to two days instead of four or five, and with peas and beans the typical 40 percent rate of germination rose to 60 to 70 percent.

“They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we’ve done is accelerate the entire plant process,” he said.

Crop yields nearly doubled, said Peter Ward, Dooley’s doctoral adviser, a UW professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences and an authority on Earth’s mass extinctions.

Hydrogen sulfide, probably produced when sulfates in the oceans were decomposed by sulfur bacteria, is believed to have played a significant role in several extinction events, in particular the “Great Dying” at the end of the Permian period. Ward suggests that the rapid plant growth could be the result of genetic signaling passed down in the wake of mass extinctions.

At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide killed small plants very easily while larger plants had a better chance at survival, he said, so it is likely that plants carry a defense mechanism that spurs their growth when they sense hydrogen sulfide.

“Mass extinctions kill a lot of stuff, but here’s a legacy that promotes life,” Ward said.

Dooley recently has applied hydrogen sulfide treatment to corn, carrots and soybeans with results that appear to be similar to earlier tests. But it is likely to be some time before he, and the general public, are comfortable with the level of testing to make sure there are no unforeseen consequences of treating food crops with hydrogen sulfide.

The most significant near-term promise, he believes, is in growing algae and other stock for biofuels. Plant lipids are the key to biofuel production, and preliminary tests show that the composition of lipids in hydrogen sulfide-treated plants is the same as in untreated plants, he said.

When plants grow to larger-than-normal size, they typically do not produce more cells but rather elongate their existing cells, Dooley said. However, in the treatment with hydrogen sulfide, he found that the cells actually got smaller and there were vastly more of them. That means the plants contain significantly more biomass for fuel production, he said.

“If you look at a slide of the cells under a microscope, anyone can understand it. It is that big of a difference,” he said.

Ward and Suven Nair, a UW biology undergraduate, are coauthors of the PLOS ONE paper. The work was funded by the UW Astrobiology Program.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Vince Stricherz.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Frederick D. Dooley, Suven P. Nair, Peter D. Ward. Increased Growth and Germination Success in Plants following Hydrogen Sulfide Administration. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e62048 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062048

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Turning humble seaweed into biofuel

The sea has long been a source of Norway’s riches, whether from cod, farmed salmon or oil. Now one researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) researcher hopes to add seaweed to this list as he refines a way to produce “biocrude” from common kelp.

“What we are trying to do is to mimic natural processes to produce oil,” said Khanh-Quang Tran, an associate professor in NTNU’s Department of Energy and Process Engineering. “However, while petroleum oil is produced naturally on a geologic time scale, we can do it in minutes.”

Tran conducted preliminary studies using sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina), which grows naturally along the Norwegian coast. His results have been published in the academic journal Algal Research.

The breakthrough

Using small quartz tube “reactors” — which look like tiny sealed straws — Tran heated the reactor containing a slurry made from the kelp biomass and water to 350degrees C at a very high rate of 585 degrees C per minute.

The technique, called fast hydrothermal liquefaction, gave him a bio-oil yield of 79%. That means that 79 % of the kelp biomass in the reactors was converted to bio-oil. A similar study in the UK using the same species of kelp yielded just 19%. The secret, Tran said, is the rapid heating.

Falling short on biofuel production

Biofuel has long been seen as a promising way to help shift humankind towards a more sustainable and climate friendly lifestyle. The logic is simple: petroleum-like fuels made from crops or substances take up CO2 as they grow and release that same CO2 when they are burned, so they are essentially carbon-neutral.

In its report “Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2014,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that biofuel production worldwide was 113 billion litres in 2013, and could reach 140 billion litres by 2018.

That may sound like a lot — but the IEA says biofuel production will need to grow 22-fold by 2025 to produce the amount of biofuel the world will need to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2oC.

The problem is the biomass feedstock. It’s relatively easy to turn corn or sugar beets into ethanol that we can pump right into our petrol tanks. But using food biomass for fuel is more and more problematic as the world’s population climbs towards 8 billion and beyond.

To get around this problem, biofuel is now produced from non-food biomass including agricultural residues, land-based energy crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, and aquatic crops such as seaweed and microalgae.

All of these feedstocks have their challenges, especially those that are land based. At least part of the issue is the fact that crops for biofuel could potentially displace crops for food.

However, seaweed offers all of the advantages of a biofuel feedstock with the additional benefit of growing, not surprisingly, in the sea.

Scaling up

But turning big pieces of slippery, salty kelp into biocrude is a challenge, too. Some studies have used catalysts, which are added chemicals that can help make the process go more quickly or easily. However, catalysts are normally expensive and require catalyst recovery.

The UK study that resulted in a 19% yield used a catalyst in its process.

Tran says the advantage of his process is that it is relatively simple and does not need a catalyst. The high heating rate also results in a biocrude that has molecular properties that will make it easier to refine.

But Tran’s experiments were what are called screening tests. He worked with batch reactors that were small and not suitable for an industrial scale. “When you want to scale up the process you have to work with a flow reactor,” or a reactor with a continuous flow of reactants and products, he said. “I already have a very good idea for such a reactor.”

The outlook

Even though the preliminary tests gave a yield of 79%, Tran believes he can improve the results even more. He’s now looking for industrial partners and additional funding to continue his research.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The original article was written by Nancy Bazilchuk. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

A slimy marine organism fit for biofuel and salmon feed

June 25, 2013 — It sounds too good to be true: a common marine species that consumes microorganisms and can be converted into much-needed feed for salmon or a combustible biofuel for filling petrol tanks. And it can be cultivated in vast amounts: 200 kg per square metre of ocean surface area.

Tunicates (ciona intestinalis) is the name of this unexpected source of such rich potential. The species is the starting point for a research-based innovation project being carried out by researchers and innovation specialists in Bergen. The idea was hatched by a group of researchers at the University of Bergen and Uni Research.

Produces cellulose and contains omega-3

The yellowish, slimy growth that many of us have come across on ropes that have lain in seawater is the marine organism known as tunicates.

Tunicates are basically living filter tubes that suck bacteria and other microorganisms into one end and excrete purified water out the other end. This is how tunicates feed — at the very bottom of the food chain and without competing directly with fish or other marine animals higher up in the chain. At the same time tunicates clean the fjords and coastal areas.

The fact that tunicates are also the only animals that produce cellulose — and that they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids — makes them a potential alternative for bioethanol and as a feed ingredient for farmed fish.

Inhabiting all oceans

Tunicates grow very quickly and year-round. Found in every ocean, they particularly thrive in cold, nutrient-rich waters such as those around the quays and coastal rock slopes of Western Norway.

Since there are no marine predators feeding on tunicates, some 2 500 to 10 000 individuals can grow undisturbed in 1 m2 of ocean surface area.

Other than the Japanese and Koreans, who eat tunicates, no one has paid them much attention until now.

Similar to mussel cultivation

For the first time ever, tunicates are being cultivated experimentally at a pilot facility in Øygarden, a small island community near Bergen.

The production method resembles the cultivation of mussels. At a facility in a small finger of a fjord, long plastic sheets are anchored to the seabed and held vertical by buoys. Between these sheets flows seawater teeming with the microorganisms tunicates need.

The Research Council of Norway’s programme Commercialising R&D Results (FORNY2020) and the technology transfer office Bergen Teknologioverføring (BTO) are investing heavily to scale up tunicate production. Christofer Troedsson of the University of Bergen’s Department of Biology is the project manager. The project will run through 2014.

Those involved have known all along that the project is high-risk. But many of the risky components have now been tested, and it has been verified that they function as intended. And if all goes as planned, as it looks like it will, the results may be impressive.

From cellulose to bioethanol

The tunicate is the only animal known to produce cellulose, with which it constructs its body wall, called the mantle.

Breaking down cellulose yields sugars that can be used to produce the fuel bioethanol. Much of the world’s bioethanol currently comes from corn, a controversial source since this crop could be used to feed people instead.

One alternative being thoroughly researched is to produce bioethanol from the cellulose in forest-based biomass. But this is not unproblematic either, since the biopolymer lignin contained in wood is valuable in many other applications. Tunicate cellulose would be a less controversial source because it does not contain lignin.

Targeting fish feed based on marine ingredients

Even more attractive than biofuel production is the use of tunicates in feed for salmon and other farmed fish. Norway is the world’s largest producer of salmon feed, and there is a huge demand for more marine proteins as feed ingredients, but the limit has already been reached in industrialised fishing.

One major challenge facing feed producers is to produce salmon feed containing omega-3 fatty acids, which the fish need but do not generate. The bulk of omega-3 in salmon feed presently comes from the fisheries industry. Dried tunicates contain 60 per cent protein and are rich in omega-3. Perhaps just as importantly, salmon find them tasty as well.

So tunicates appear promising as a new feed ingredient.

Large-scale cultivation needed

Protein production from marine cultivation of tunicates has 100 times the potential per square metre than any land-based protein cultivation. Moreover, the food that tunicates need is readily available in the form of vast amounts of microorganisms in nutrient-rich marine waters.

So what is the hold-up?

“Our single greatest challenge is cultivating enough biomass per square metre to make operations profitable,” explains project manager Troedsson. “We anticipate a crop of 100 to 200 kilograms per square metre, which is an extremely high yield. But that is what is needed for profitability because the price per kilo is so low.”

The Bergen-based researchers have achieved this production target at their small-scale facility, and the mathematical models they have run make them optimistic that a similar production level is possible with large-scale tunicate farms. But there are no guarantees just yet.

Removing the water

“The second major challenge we face is how much water we can squeeze out of the tunicates,” continues Dr Troedsson. “Their body mass is 95 per cent water. To sell the product we have to be able to remove at least 90 per cent and preferably 95 per cent of that water by mechanical pressing.”

“On an isolated basis we have managed to mechanically press out 97 per cent of the water. Now we must try to carry out that process efficiently on board the harvesting boats, while at the same time pulling several tonnes of tunicates per hour out of the sea.”

“Thus production volume and water separation are the two critical factors that must be successfully addressed if tunicate cultivation is to be profitable for private companies in today’s market,” concludes Dr Troedsson.

The Research Council of Norway’s programme Commercialising R&D Results (FORNY2020) is allocating NOK 8.7 million in funding to the tunicate project through 2014.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New 3-D imaging techniques may improve understanding of biofuel plant material: Never-before-seen details

Comparison of 3D TEM imaging techniques reveals never-seen-before details of plant cell walls, according to a study published September 10, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Purbasha Sarkar from University of California, Berkeley and colleagues.

Cost-effective production of plant material for biofuel requires efficient breakdown of plant cell wall tissue to retrieve the complex sugars in the cell wall required for fermentation and production of biofuels. In-depth knowledge of plant cell wall composition is therefore essential for improving the fuel production process. The precise spatial three-dimensional organization of certain plant structures, including cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin, and lignin, within plant cell walls remains unclear, due to the limited to 2D, topographic or low-resolution imaging currently used by researchers, as well as other factors.

In an attempt to compare the quality of 3D TEM imaging techniques of the cell wall structure in plant stem tissue, the authors of this study compared three different sample preparation methods for imaging: conventional microwave-assisted chemical fixation and embedding followed by imaging at room temperature; high-pressure freezing, freeze substitution (HPF-FS) followed by room temperature embedding and imaging; and cryo-immobilization of fresh tissue by self-pressurized rapid freezing, cryo-sectioning, and cryo-tomography- a type of electron microscopy run at very low temperatures that yields near-native 3D reconstructions.

Qualitative and quantitative analyses showed that plant ultrastructure and wall organization of cryo-immobilized samples were preserved remarkably better than conventionally prepared samples. However, due to the highly challenging techniques associated with cryo-tomography, large-scale quantitative analyses are better performed on HPF-FS samples.

Manfred Auer added: “We have developed and compared novel sample preparation and molecular 3D imaging approaches for plant cell walls, yielding insight into faithfully preserved 3D wall architecture, which will lead to rational re-engineering of second-generation lignocellulosic biofuel crops.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by PLOS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Regulations needed to identify potentially invasive biofuel crops

If the hottest new plant grown as a biofuel crop is approved based solely on its greenhouse gas emission profile, its potential as the next invasive species may not be discovered until it’s too late. In response to this need to prevent such invasions, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed both a set of regulatory definitions and provisions and a list of 49 low-risk biofuel plants from which growers can choose.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute, recognized that most of the news about invasive biofuel crops was negative and offered few low-risk alternatives to producers. She and her colleagues set out to create a list of low-risk biofuel crops that can be safely grown for conversion to ethanol but realized in the process that regulations were needed to instill checks and balances in the system.

“There are not a lot of existing regulations that would prevent the planting of potentially invasive species at the state or federal levels. For example, there are currently only four states (Florida, Mississippi, Oregon, and Maryland) that have any laws relating to how bioenergy crops can be grown and that include any language about invasive species — and, for the most part, when those words do appear, they are either not defined or poorly defined,” said Quinn.

In approving new biofuel products, Quinn said that the EPA doesn’t formally consider invasiveness at all — just greenhouse gas emissions related to their production. “Last summer, the EPA approved two known invaders, Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpurem (napier grass), despite public criticism,” added U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres, who co-authored the research to define legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear scientific definition of what it means to be invasive. The team of researchers used fundamental biological, ecological, and management principles to develop definitions for terminology commonly used to describe invasive species.

“Our definition of invasive is ‘a population exhibiting a net negative impact or harm to the target ecosystem,’ for example,” Quinn said. “We want to establish guidelines that will be simple for regulators and informed by the ecological literature and our own knowledge. We also need to recognize that some native plants can become weedy or invasive. It’s complicated and requires some understanding of the biology of these plants.”

Quinn said that ideally the definitions and suggested regulations could become part of a revised Renewable Fuels Standard administered by EPA, which would require Congress to make the changes. The proposed regulations could also be adopted at the state level.

“Some of the biofeedstocks currently being examined by the EPA for approval, like pennycress, have a high risk for invasion,” Quinn said. “Others have vague names such as jatropha with no species name, which is problematic. For example, there are three main Miscanthus species but only sterile hybrid Miscanthus × giganteus types are considered low risk. However, the EPA has approved “Miscanthus” as a feedstock without specifying a species or genotype” Quinn said. “That’s fine for the low-risk sterile types but could mean higher-risk fertile types could be approved without additional oversight.”

According to Quinn, the white list, which includes 49 low-risk feedstock plants, will serve to clear up the confusion about plant names. The list was developed using an existing weed risk assessment protocol, which includes 49 questions that must be asked about a particular species based on its biology, ecology, and its history of being invasive in other parts of the world.

“Those questions are difficult to answer for new taxa, including plants that haven’t been around long or have just recently been developed by breeders,” Quinn said. “This will be the first time that they are out in the environment so we don’t know what their potential for invasiveness is. But the white list offers plenty of choices of plants that are already commercially available, and the feedstocks on the list have a number of different industrial uses.”

Quinn stressed that the native plants that are included in the white list are only recommended as the native genotypes grown in their native region, because although a plant may be native to a part of the United States, it could be considered invasive if grown in a different region.

“For example, Panicum virgatum is the variety of switchgrass that is low risk everywhere except for the three coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, but future genotypes that may be bred with more invasive characteristics, such as rapid growth or prolific seed production, may have higher risk.”

The researchers believe that the white list provides producers with clearly identified low-invasion risk options and may reduce conflicts between objectives for increasing renewable fuel production and reducing unintended impacts and costs resulting from the propagation of invasive plants.

“Resolving regulatory uncertainty: legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks” was published in an issue of GCB Bioenergy. Co-authors include Elise Scott and James McCubbins from the Energy Biosciences Institute, A. Bryan Endres and Thomas Voigt from the University of Illinois, and Jacob Barney from Virginia Tech.

“Bioenergy feedstocks at low risk for invasion in the U.S.: A ‘white list’ approach” was published in Bioenergy Research. Co-authors include Aviva Glaser from the National Wildlife Federation, Doria Gordon from the Nature Conservancy, and Deah Lieurance and Luke Flory from the University of Florida.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Regulations needed to identify potentially invasive biofuel crops

If the hottest new plant grown as a biofuel crop is approved based solely on its greenhouse gas emission profile, its potential as the next invasive species may not be discovered until it’s too late. In response to this need to prevent such invasions, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed both a set of regulatory definitions and provisions and a list of 49 low-risk biofuel plants from which growers can choose.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute, recognized that most of the news about invasive biofuel crops was negative and offered few low-risk alternatives to producers. She and her colleagues set out to create a list of low-risk biofuel crops that can be safely grown for conversion to ethanol but realized in the process that regulations were needed to instill checks and balances in the system.

“There are not a lot of existing regulations that would prevent the planting of potentially invasive species at the state or federal levels. For example, there are currently only four states (Florida, Mississippi, Oregon, and Maryland) that have any laws relating to how bioenergy crops can be grown and that include any language about invasive species — and, for the most part, when those words do appear, they are either not defined or poorly defined,” said Quinn.

In approving new biofuel products, Quinn said that the EPA doesn’t formally consider invasiveness at all — just greenhouse gas emissions related to their production. “Last summer, the EPA approved two known invaders, Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpurem (napier grass), despite public criticism,” added U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres, who co-authored the research to define legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear scientific definition of what it means to be invasive. The team of researchers used fundamental biological, ecological, and management principles to develop definitions for terminology commonly used to describe invasive species.

“Our definition of invasive is ‘a population exhibiting a net negative impact or harm to the target ecosystem,’ for example,” Quinn said. “We want to establish guidelines that will be simple for regulators and informed by the ecological literature and our own knowledge. We also need to recognize that some native plants can become weedy or invasive. It’s complicated and requires some understanding of the biology of these plants.”

Quinn said that ideally the definitions and suggested regulations could become part of a revised Renewable Fuels Standard administered by EPA, which would require Congress to make the changes. The proposed regulations could also be adopted at the state level.

“Some of the biofeedstocks currently being examined by the EPA for approval, like pennycress, have a high risk for invasion,” Quinn said. “Others have vague names such as jatropha with no species name, which is problematic. For example, there are three main Miscanthus species but only sterile hybrid Miscanthus × giganteus types are considered low risk. However, the EPA has approved “Miscanthus” as a feedstock without specifying a species or genotype” Quinn said. “That’s fine for the low-risk sterile types but could mean higher-risk fertile types could be approved without additional oversight.”

According to Quinn, the white list, which includes 49 low-risk feedstock plants, will serve to clear up the confusion about plant names. The list was developed using an existing weed risk assessment protocol, which includes 49 questions that must be asked about a particular species based on its biology, ecology, and its history of being invasive in other parts of the world.

“Those questions are difficult to answer for new taxa, including plants that haven’t been around long or have just recently been developed by breeders,” Quinn said. “This will be the first time that they are out in the environment so we don’t know what their potential for invasiveness is. But the white list offers plenty of choices of plants that are already commercially available, and the feedstocks on the list have a number of different industrial uses.”

Quinn stressed that the native plants that are included in the white list are only recommended as the native genotypes grown in their native region, because although a plant may be native to a part of the United States, it could be considered invasive if grown in a different region.

“For example, Panicum virgatum is the variety of switchgrass that is low risk everywhere except for the three coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, but future genotypes that may be bred with more invasive characteristics, such as rapid growth or prolific seed production, may have higher risk.”

The researchers believe that the white list provides producers with clearly identified low-invasion risk options and may reduce conflicts between objectives for increasing renewable fuel production and reducing unintended impacts and costs resulting from the propagation of invasive plants.

“Resolving regulatory uncertainty: legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks” was published in an issue of GCB Bioenergy. Co-authors include Elise Scott and James McCubbins from the Energy Biosciences Institute, A. Bryan Endres and Thomas Voigt from the University of Illinois, and Jacob Barney from Virginia Tech.

“Bioenergy feedstocks at low risk for invasion in the U.S.: A ‘white list’ approach” was published in Bioenergy Research. Co-authors include Aviva Glaser from the National Wildlife Federation, Doria Gordon from the Nature Conservancy, and Deah Lieurance and Luke Flory from the University of Florida.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Camelina used to build better biofuel

A Kansas State University biochemist is improving biofuels with a promising crop: Camelina sativa. The research may help boost rural economies and provide farmers with a value-added product.

Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, is part of collaborative team that has received a four-year $ 1.5 million joint U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy grant. The project, led by Colorado State University, was one of 10 projects funded this year as part of the federal Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program.

Durrett and collaborators are developing Camelina sativa as a biodiesel crop for the Great Plains. Camelina, a nonfood oilseed crop, can be a valuable biofuel crop because it can grow on poorer quality farmland and needs little irrigation and fertilizer. It also can be rotated with wheat, Durrett said.

“Camelina could give farmers an extra biofuel crop that wouldn’t be competing with food production,” Durrett said. “This research can add value to the local agricultural economy by creating an additional crop that could fit in with the crop rotation.”

The research will take advantage of the recently sequenced camelina genome. For the project, Durrett is improving camelina’s oil properties and by altering the plant’s biochemistry to make it capable of producing low-viscosity oil.

Developing low-viscosity oil is crucial to improving biofuels, Durrett said. Regular vegetable oil is too viscous for a diesel engine, so the engine either has to be modified or the vegetable oil has to be converted to biodiesel. Camelina could provide a drop-in fuel that could address this issue.

“By reducing the viscosity, we want to make a biofuel that can be used directly by a diesel engine without requiring any kind of chemical modification,” Durrett said. “We would be able to extract the oil directly and use it in a diesel engine right away.”

Although low-viscosity oils are a valuable fuel source, they also are valuable for a variety of other industrial uses, such as plasticizers, biodegradable lubricants and food emulsifiers, Durrett said.

The research also could create a value-added product for farmers. Modified oils have the potential to become more valuable than regular vegetable oil, Durrett said.

“It is important to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but the hope is that we also could help improve the rural economy by giving farmers a value-added product that they can produce directly,” Durrett said. “Rather than having a chemical company or a biofuel company take raw vegetable oil and modify it, the plant actually performs the chemistry and the farmers harvest that value-added product themselves.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by Kansas State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

New technique promises cheaper second-generation biofuel for cars

Producing second-generation biofuel from dead plant tissue is environmetally friendly — but it is also expensive because the process as used today needs expensive enzymes, and large companies dominate this market. Now a Danish/Iraqi collaboration presents a new technique that avoids the expensive enzymes. The production of second generation biofuels thus becomes cheaper, probably attracting many more producers and competition, and this may finally bring the price down.

The world’s need for fuel will persist, also when Earth’s deposits of fossil fuels run out. Bioethanol, which is made from the remains of plants after other parts have been used as food or other agricultural products, and therefore termed “second generation,” is seen as a strong potential substitute candidate, and countries like the United States and Brazil are far ahead when it comes to producing bioethanol from plant parts like corn or sugar canes. Corn cubs and sugar canes are in fact plant parts that can also be used directly as food, so there is a great public resistance to accept producing this kind of bioethanol. A big challenge is therefore to become able to produce bioethanol from plant parts, which cannot be used for food.

“The goal is to produce bioethanol from cellulose. Cellulose is very difficult to break down, and therefore cannot directly be used as a food source. Cellulose is found everywhere in nature in rich quantities, for example in the stems of the corn plant. If we can produce bioethanol from the corn stems and keep the corn cubs for food, we have come a long way,” says Per Morgen, professor at the Institute of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, University of Southern Denmark.

Cellulose is organized in long chains in the plant’s cell walls, and they are hard to break down. However, it is not impossible: There are on the market various patented enzymes that can do the job and break down cellulose into sugar, which then is used to produce bioethanol.

“But the patented enzymes are expensive to buy. We are proud to now introduce a completely enzyme-free technique that is not patented and not expensive. The technique can be used by everybody ,” explains Per Morgen.

Together with colleagues from the University of Baghdad and Al-Muthanna University in Iraq, he explains that it is not an enzyme, but an acid that plays the main role in the new technique. The acid is called RHSO3H, and it is made on the basis of rice husks.

“My Iraqi colleagues have made the acid from treated rice husk. The worldwide production of rice generates enormous amounts of rice husk and ashes from burning the husk, so this material is cheap and easy to get hold of,” he says.

It’s all about the acid

The ashes from burnt rice husks have a high content of silicate, and this is the important compound in the production of the new acid. The scientists paired silicate particles with chlorosulfonic acid and this made the acid molecules attach themselves to the silicate compounds.

“The result was an entirely new molecule — the acid RHSO3H — which can replace the enzymes in the work of breaking down cellulose to sugar,” explains Per Morgen.

He is particularly proud that all levels in this new way of producing bioethanol are environmentally friendly and accessible for all: The catalyst acid is made ​​from readily available plant left overs, and it can be reused many times. The recipe cannot be patented and the bioethanol is produced from cellulosic plants that cannot otherwise be used for anything else.”Cellulose is the most common biological material in the world, so there is plenty of it,” he adds.

Since 2010 it has been mandatory in Denmark to add five per cent ethanol to all gasoline sold in the country. You can add up to 85 per cent bioethanol to gasoline, and this is common in several South American countries. Danish research institutions and DONG Energy (denmark) have great focus on how to produce bioethanol from otherwise useless crop residues such as straw.

The use of bioethanol instead of gasoline reduces the CO2 emissions from cars and fossil fuel consumption.

Making the new acid

3 grams of ash from burned rice husk were mixed with 100 ml of caustic soda (NaOH) in a plastic container. The solution was stirred for 30 minutes at room temperature so that the ash content of the silicate was converted to sodium silicate. To the solution was added nitric acid to control its concentration, and then chlorosulfonic acid was added. When the pH approached 10, a white gel began to form. The addition of nitric acid was continued until the pH reached 3, where after the gel rested for 24 hours at room temperature. Then it was centrifuged six times with distilled water and finally the product was purified with acetone. The product was then dried at 110 degrees Celsius for 24 hours and grounded into a fine powder weighing 6.4 grams. This powder was RHSO3H.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern Denmark. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

More to biofuel production than yield

Jan. 13, 2014 — When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price.

In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Landis and a team of researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center compared three potential biofuel crops: corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants. They measured the diversity of plants, pest and beneficial insects, birds and microbes that consume methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination and bird populations were higher in perennial grasslands.

In addition, the team found that the grass crops’ ability to harbor such increased biodiversity is strongly linked to the fields’ location relative to other habitats. For example, pest suppression, which is already higher in perennial grass crops, increased by an additional 30 percent when fields were located near other perennial grass habitats. This suggests that in order to enhance pest suppression and other critical ecosystem services, coordinated land use should play a key role in agricultural policy and planning, Landis said.

“With supportive policies, we envision the ability to design agricultural landscapes to maximize multiple benefits,” he said.

However, rising corn and other commodity prices tempt farmers to till and plant as much of their available land as possible. This includes farming marginal lands that produce lower yields as well as converting acreage set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands and wetlands.

“Yes, corn prices are currently attractive to farmers, but with the exception of biomass yield, all other services were greater in the perennial grass crops,” Landis said. “If high commodity prices continue to drive conversion of these marginal lands to annual crop production, it will reduce the flexibility we have in the future to promote other critical services like pollination, pest suppression and reduction of greenhouse gasses.”

Additional MSU researchers who contributed to this study include: Ben Werling, Timothy Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Katherine Gross, Carolyn Malmstrom, Leilei Ruan, Philip Robertson, Thomas Schmidt, Tracy Teal and Julianna Wilson. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Bard College and Trinity Christian College also were part of this research.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and MSU AgBioResearch.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

More to biofuel production than yield

Jan. 13, 2014 — When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price.

In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Landis and a team of researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center compared three potential biofuel crops: corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants. They measured the diversity of plants, pest and beneficial insects, birds and microbes that consume methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination and bird populations were higher in perennial grasslands.

In addition, the team found that the grass crops’ ability to harbor such increased biodiversity is strongly linked to the fields’ location relative to other habitats. For example, pest suppression, which is already higher in perennial grass crops, increased by an additional 30 percent when fields were located near other perennial grass habitats. This suggests that in order to enhance pest suppression and other critical ecosystem services, coordinated land use should play a key role in agricultural policy and planning, Landis said.

“With supportive policies, we envision the ability to design agricultural landscapes to maximize multiple benefits,” he said.

However, rising corn and other commodity prices tempt farmers to till and plant as much of their available land as possible. This includes farming marginal lands that produce lower yields as well as converting acreage set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands and wetlands.

“Yes, corn prices are currently attractive to farmers, but with the exception of biomass yield, all other services were greater in the perennial grass crops,” Landis said. “If high commodity prices continue to drive conversion of these marginal lands to annual crop production, it will reduce the flexibility we have in the future to promote other critical services like pollination, pest suppression and reduction of greenhouse gasses.”

Additional MSU researchers who contributed to this study include: Ben Werling, Timothy Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Katherine Gross, Carolyn Malmstrom, Leilei Ruan, Philip Robertson, Thomas Schmidt, Tracy Teal and Julianna Wilson. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Bard College and Trinity Christian College also were part of this research.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and MSU AgBioResearch.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

More to biofuel production than yield

Jan. 13, 2014 — When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price.

In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Landis and a team of researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center compared three potential biofuel crops: corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants. They measured the diversity of plants, pest and beneficial insects, birds and microbes that consume methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination and bird populations were higher in perennial grasslands.

In addition, the team found that the grass crops’ ability to harbor such increased biodiversity is strongly linked to the fields’ location relative to other habitats. For example, pest suppression, which is already higher in perennial grass crops, increased by an additional 30 percent when fields were located near other perennial grass habitats. This suggests that in order to enhance pest suppression and other critical ecosystem services, coordinated land use should play a key role in agricultural policy and planning, Landis said.

“With supportive policies, we envision the ability to design agricultural landscapes to maximize multiple benefits,” he said.

However, rising corn and other commodity prices tempt farmers to till and plant as much of their available land as possible. This includes farming marginal lands that produce lower yields as well as converting acreage set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands and wetlands.

“Yes, corn prices are currently attractive to farmers, but with the exception of biomass yield, all other services were greater in the perennial grass crops,” Landis said. “If high commodity prices continue to drive conversion of these marginal lands to annual crop production, it will reduce the flexibility we have in the future to promote other critical services like pollination, pest suppression and reduction of greenhouse gasses.”

Additional MSU researchers who contributed to this study include: Ben Werling, Timothy Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Katherine Gross, Carolyn Malmstrom, Leilei Ruan, Philip Robertson, Thomas Schmidt, Tracy Teal and Julianna Wilson. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Bard College and Trinity Christian College also were part of this research.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and MSU AgBioResearch.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

More to biofuel production than yield

Jan. 13, 2014 — When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price.

In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Landis and a team of researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center compared three potential biofuel crops: corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants. They measured the diversity of plants, pest and beneficial insects, birds and microbes that consume methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination and bird populations were higher in perennial grasslands.

In addition, the team found that the grass crops’ ability to harbor such increased biodiversity is strongly linked to the fields’ location relative to other habitats. For example, pest suppression, which is already higher in perennial grass crops, increased by an additional 30 percent when fields were located near other perennial grass habitats. This suggests that in order to enhance pest suppression and other critical ecosystem services, coordinated land use should play a key role in agricultural policy and planning, Landis said.

“With supportive policies, we envision the ability to design agricultural landscapes to maximize multiple benefits,” he said.

However, rising corn and other commodity prices tempt farmers to till and plant as much of their available land as possible. This includes farming marginal lands that produce lower yields as well as converting acreage set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands and wetlands.

“Yes, corn prices are currently attractive to farmers, but with the exception of biomass yield, all other services were greater in the perennial grass crops,” Landis said. “If high commodity prices continue to drive conversion of these marginal lands to annual crop production, it will reduce the flexibility we have in the future to promote other critical services like pollination, pest suppression and reduction of greenhouse gasses.”

Additional MSU researchers who contributed to this study include: Ben Werling, Timothy Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Katherine Gross, Carolyn Malmstrom, Leilei Ruan, Philip Robertson, Thomas Schmidt, Tracy Teal and Julianna Wilson. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Bard College and Trinity Christian College also were part of this research.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and MSU AgBioResearch.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

More to biofuel production than yield

Jan. 13, 2014 — When it comes to biofuels, corn leads the all-important category of biomass yield. However, focusing solely on yield comes at a high price.

In the current issue of the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, Michigan State University researchers show that looking at the big picture allows other biofuel crops, such as native perennial grasses, to score higher as viable alternatives.

“We believe our findings have major implications for bioenergy research and policy,” said Doug Landis, MSU entomologist and one of the paper’s lead authors. “Biomass yield is obviously a key goal, but it appears to come at the expense of many other environmental benefits that society may desire from rural landscapes.”

Landis and a team of researchers from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center compared three potential biofuel crops: corn, switchgrass, and mixes of native prairie grasses and flowering plants. They measured the diversity of plants, pest and beneficial insects, birds and microbes that consume methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination and bird populations were higher in perennial grasslands.

In addition, the team found that the grass crops’ ability to harbor such increased biodiversity is strongly linked to the fields’ location relative to other habitats. For example, pest suppression, which is already higher in perennial grass crops, increased by an additional 30 percent when fields were located near other perennial grass habitats. This suggests that in order to enhance pest suppression and other critical ecosystem services, coordinated land use should play a key role in agricultural policy and planning, Landis said.

“With supportive policies, we envision the ability to design agricultural landscapes to maximize multiple benefits,” he said.

However, rising corn and other commodity prices tempt farmers to till and plant as much of their available land as possible. This includes farming marginal lands that produce lower yields as well as converting acreage set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program, grasslands and wetlands.

“Yes, corn prices are currently attractive to farmers, but with the exception of biomass yield, all other services were greater in the perennial grass crops,” Landis said. “If high commodity prices continue to drive conversion of these marginal lands to annual crop production, it will reduce the flexibility we have in the future to promote other critical services like pollination, pest suppression and reduction of greenhouse gasses.”

Additional MSU researchers who contributed to this study include: Ben Werling, Timothy Dickson, Rufus Isaacs, Katherine Gross, Carolyn Malmstrom, Leilei Ruan, Philip Robertson, Thomas Schmidt, Tracy Teal and Julianna Wilson. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Bard College and Trinity Christian College also were part of this research.

This research was funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and MSU AgBioResearch.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

Aug. 15, 2013 — Limited availability of fossil fuels stimulates the search for different energy resources. The use of biofuels is one of the alternatives. Sugars derived from the grain of agricultural crops can be used to produce biofuel but these crops occupy fertile soils needed for food and feed production.

Fast growing plants such as poplar, eucalyptus, or various grass residues such as corn stover and sugarcane bagasse do not compete and can be a sustainable source for biofuel. An international collaboration of plant scientists from VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), The James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

These findings published online in this week’s issue of Science Express pave the way for new initiatives supporting a bio-based economy.

“This exciting, fundamental discovery provides an alternative pathway for altering lignin in plants and has the potential to greatly increase the efficiency of energy crop conversion for biofuels,” said Sally M. Benson, director of Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project. “We have been so pleased to support this team of world leaders in lignin research and to see the highly successful outcome of these projects.”

Lignin as a barrier

To understand how plant cells can deliver fuel or plastics, a basic knowledge of a plant’s cell wall is needed. A plant cell wall mainly consists of lignin and sugar molecules such as cellulose. Cellulose can be converted to glucose which can then be used in a classical fermentation process to produce alcohol, similar to beer or wine making. Lignin is a kind of cement that embeds the sugar molecules and thereby gives firmness to plants. Thanks to lignin, even very tall plants can maintain their upright stature. Unfortunately, lignin severely reduces the accessibility of sugar molecules for biofuel production. The lignin cement has to be removed via an energy-consuming and environmentally unfriendly process. Plants with a lower amount of lignin or with lignin that is easier to break down can be a real benefit for biofuel and bioplastics production. The same holds true for the paper industry that uses the cellulose fibres to produce paper.

A new enzyme

For many years researchers have been studying the lignin biosynthetic pathway in plants. Increasing insight into this process can lead to new strategies to improve the accessibility of the cellulose molecules. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, an international research collaboration between VIB and Ghent University (Belgium), the University of Dundee (UK), the James Hutton Institute (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (USA) has now identified a new enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway. This enzyme, caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE), fulfils a central role in lignin biosynthesis. Knocking-out the CSE gene, resulted in 36% less lignin per gram of stem material. Additionally, the remaining lignin had an altered structure. As a result, the direct conversion of cellulose to glucose from un-pretreated plant biomass increased four-fold, from 18% in the control plants to 78% in the cse mutant plants.

These new insights, published this week online in Science Express, can now be used to screen natural populations of energy crops such as poplar, eucalyptus, switchgrass or other grass species for a non-functional CSE gene. Alternatively, the expression of CSE can be genetically engineered in energy crops. A reduced amount of lignin or an adapted lignin structure can contribute to a more efficient conversion of biomass to energy.

This research was co-financed by the multidisciplinary research partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy’ of Ghent University, the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and the ‘Global Climate and Energy Project’ (GCEP). Based at Stanford University, the Global Climate and Energy Project is a worldwide collaboration of premier research institutions and private industry that supports research on technologies that significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, while meeting the world’s energy needs.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News