A screening tool from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) eases and greatly quickens one of the thorniest tasks in the biofuels industry: determining cell wall chemistry to find plants with ideal genes.
NREL's new High-Throughput Analytical Pyrolysis tool (HTAP) can thoroughly analyze hundreds of biomass samples a day and give an early look at the genotypes that are most worth pursuing. Analysis of a sample that previously took two weeks can now be done in two minutes. That is potentially game changing for tree nurseries and the biomass industry.
When it comes to making fuels out of trees, crops, grasses, or algae, it's all about the cell walls of the plants. Will they make it hard or easy for enzymes to turn the biomass into sugars? Differences in cell walls are enormous, and choosing the right ones can make the difference between a profit and a loss for tree growers, or between a fruitful or fruitless feedstock line for biomass companies.
Finding that particular species, or that individual tree, that has the genetic markers for the optimal biofuel candidate has heretofore been laborious and painstaking.
The Energy Independence and Security Act requires that the United States produce 21 billion gallons of non-corn-based biofuel by 2022. The market for biofuels is expected to grow steadily between now and then. Market analysts say the successful companies will be those that can steer their enzymes through the cell-wall structures in the easiest and most cost-effective ways, including by making changes in the structures themselves.
Tool Can Pinpoint Phenotypes
To find out the chemical composition of the cell walls, companies have to sample large quantities of biomass, whether it's switchgrass, remnants of corn stalks, fast-growing trees, or algae.
The traditional strategy had been a multistep approach involving sample dissolution and chromatographic analy
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory