International research team seeks more efficient biomass refinement processes

vtech-logoResearchers from across the world, including from Virginia Tech, plan to mimic the chemistry of the brown rot fungus to improve biomass refinement processes. BioMim, a $4 million, four-year project funded by the Research Council of Norway with industrial partners Borregaard and Kebony, will also seek better ways to protect wood products.

“A key part of the work will focus on the breakdown of the cellulose portion of biomass to produce component sugars that can then be fermented to biofuels,” said project leader Gry Alfredsen of the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research. “But today, in addition to alcohols, fermentation processes can generate a variety of platform chemicals, such as for use in making plastics and resins, so this will also be a focus.”

Wood and other biomass sources consist of two basic chemicals, cellulose and lignin — the two most abundant natural polymers on Earth.

“One of the key problems in current biorefinery systems is finding a way to disentangle the lignin, which, at the nanoscale, forms a tight plastic coating around the cellulose fibers, to thus free up the cellulose for a variety of applications,” said Barry Goodell, professor of sustainable biomaterials in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The BioMim project will explore two processes. The first is a technology developed by Goodell that borrows from the processes used by brown rot fungi that are commonly found breaking down woody debris on the forest floor — and sometime also damaging homes, decks, and other structural products. The resulting catalytic process for freeing cellulose from lignin has now been demonstrated at pilot scale. The BioMim team will expand on this technology and explore how it can be used efficiently in large-scale biorefineries.

The second part of the process uses a newly discovered enzymatic system discovered by the group of team member Vincent Eijsink, professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. This new enzyme system may permit further deconstruction of the cellulose portion of the wood biomass once freed from the lignin.

One of the BioMim collaborators who is producing the enzyme is Makoto Yoshida, associate professor from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. Yoshida began a nine-month sabbatical in Goodell’s lab this month. “We will combine the catalytic chemistries with the enzyme system to test the system as a whole,” Goodell said.

Alfredsen was also a visiting scientist on sabbatical in Goodell’s laboratory at Virginia Tech two years ago. She had been following Goodell’s research for some time, and the two recognized the value of a combined international research approach to solve a global sustainability problem on the better utilization of biomass resources. The Norwegian funding agency was willing to fund research innovation in this area.

While freeing up cellulose for enhanced utilization is a critical objective of the BioMim project, the other component of wood — lignin — also has many uses, such as emulsions, binders, and micronutrients, with potential market value in excess of $200 billion, according to the Frost and Sullivan market research group. Borregaard, which has plants in Wisconsin and Florida as well as in Norway and worldwide, is a global leader in the production of lignin-based products and has great interest in how the BioMim project team can generate lignin in a more efficient manner and generate new types of lignin for products, said Goodell.

Kebony, based in Skien, south of Oslo, is particularly interested in protecting wood for long-lasting wood products.


UVA Basketball Fans!

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25. The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe, and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018 through to the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

Dick Vitale on Team of Destiny: “This is a hoops story you will LOVE! Jerry and Chris capture the sensational and dramatic championship journey by Tony Bennett and his tenacious Cavalier team. UVA was Awesome Baby and so is this book!”

Ralph Sampson on Team of Destiny: “Jerry and Chris have lived and seen it all, even before my time. I highly recommend this book to every basketball fan across the globe. This story translates to all who know defeat and how to overcome it!”

Feedback from buyers: “Got the Book in the Mail Saturday, and could not put it down! Great read and great photography as well! Love all of the books I’ve received, but hands down, this is my favorite!” – Russell

Buy here.

augusta free press news
augusta free press news
augusta free press news