This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 28, 2007

DOE Awards $23 Million for Cellulosic Ethanol Conversion Projects

Bird's-eye view of a pilot plant, which consists of eight large vessels interconnected with a complex network of piping.

The new DOE-funded projects will develop new fermentative organisms, which could benefit cellulosic ethanol pilot plants such as this facility in Nebraska.
Credit: Abengoa Bioenergy

DOE announced on March 27th that five projects will receive $23 million over the next four years to develop highly efficient fermentative organisms that convert cellulosic biomass into ethanol. Cellulosic biomass includes a variety of non-food plant materials, such as agricultural wastes, saw dust, paper pulp, and switchgrass. Organisms that can ferment these cellulosic biomass materials into ethanol are crucial to the success of commercial-scale integrated biorefineries and cellulosic ethanol refining. Such organisms must be able to survive a wide range of environmental conditions while resisting mutations that would hinder their effectiveness.

DOE selected Cargill Incorporated, Celunol Corporation, DuPont, Mascoma Corporation, and Purdue University for the five projects. The total investment in the five projects could be more than $37 million, with DOE's Biofuels Initiative providing the federal government's share. The research will further President Bush's goals of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive by 2012 and reducing U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. See the DOE press release and the Biofuels Initiative Web page.

In early March, DOE's Joint Genome Institute (JGI) achieved a key milestone to understanding such fermentative organisms by sequencing the genome for the fungus Pichia stipitis. The fungus is proficient at fermenting xylose, one of the main sugars in cellulosic biomass. The research—performed in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Product Laboratory—identified numerous genes in the fungus that allow it to break down cellulose and ferment the xylose. The researchers also analyzed the metabolic pathways associated with those genes. The results were published in the March 4th online publication of the journal Nature Biotechnology. See the JGI press release.