Dr. Paul Gilna, the director of the BESC, in which the project was conducted, added: "This work greatly improves our ability to closely examine the mechanisms behind the scientific improvements we have developed, all of which are targeted at enabling the emergence of a sustainable cellulosic biofuels industry." BESC is a multi-institutional Bioenergy Research Center supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy Office of Science.
The correlative imaging in real time allowed the team to assess the impact of lignin removal on biomass hydrolysis and to see the nanometer-scale changes in cell wall structure. And, that allowed them to see how those changes affected the rate at which enzymes from two different organisms digested the plant cell walls.
The aim in the biofuel industry is to access the plants' polymeric carbohydrate structures without damaging the basic molecules of which the polymers are constructed. "It's more like dis-assembling a building with wrenches, hammers and crowbars to recover re-useable bricks, wiring, pipes and structural steel than it is like using a wrecking ball or explosives," Gilna said. Enzymes, unlike typical harsh chemical catalysts, excel at this relatively gentle disassembly.
The NREL team examined two enzyme systems one from a fungus, the other from a bacterium both holding promise as biocatalysts for producing sugar intermediates for the biofuels industry.
The particular bacterial enzymes studied are organized through a large scaffolding protein into a multi-enzyme complex from which they make a coordinated attack on the cell walls. The separate fungal enzymes act more individualistically, although the ultimate result is cooperative in that case, as well.
The NREL team found that the easier the access to the cell walls, the better and faster the enzymes will digest the material.
In biofuels production, enzymes are ne
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory