BioEnergy Science Center

Overcoming Recalcitrance

Biomass Formation and Modification

Enabling Technologies

Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion

Leading advancements in science and science-based innovation to remove economic barriers for cellulosic biofuels.



of 3 Centers




Patent Applications


Invention Disclosures

Journal Articles


  • Industry Collaborations


    Using a "commercialization council" of technology transfer and intellectual property (IP) management professionals from partner institutions, BESC evaluates the commercial potential of new inventions arising from BESC research and promotes and facilitates the licensing of BESC IP.

    Laboratory researcher
  • Education Outreach


    BESC's education program, which is 75% self-sustaining, takes a novel approach. BESC has developed lesson plans to educate students about energy production and utilization. BESC uses a hub-and-spoke approach of working through regional science centers to maximize hands-on access and adaptation to local conditions.

    Researcher and student

Progress to Date

More Highlights

October 11, 2017

Review : Lignocellulose deconstruction in the biosphere
The aims of this review were to provide a better understanding of carbon recycling in the biosphere ranging from biomass synthesis to deconstruction by biotic or abiotic routes; highlight the importance of the synergism between natural microbial communities within a given ecosystem; and show the complexity of the biomass deconstruction mechanisms that have evolved in nature.

October 09, 2017

Linking Physiochemical Properties of Populus to Recalcitrance in Natural Variants
This study integrated cell wall structural components with plant genetics and presented associations between physicochemical properties, sugar release and differential gene expression. Lignin content negatively affected the sugar release of Populus, whereas lignin S/G ratio, lignin Mw, cellulose content, and cellulose accessibility were positively correlated with the conversion performance. The trend of differential gene expression in variants supports the characterization results and their effects on biomass conversion.

August 29, 2017

Schematic and TEM micrograph of the cellulose deconstruction mechanism of CelA. The GH48 and GH9 cat (...more)

Hyper Thermophilic Cellulase CelA from C. bescii Indifferent to Level of Crystallinity in Biomass
CelA was shown to break down cellulose with high crystallinity to the same extent as low crystallinity cellulose — a characteristic never reported for other cellulases. CelA exhibits a cavity forming mechanism on all types of biomass tested. This discovery demonstrates that nature's strategies for biomass conversion are diverse and that enzymes with new characteristics can still be discovered and isolated for improving biomass deconstruction applications.

August 28, 2017

Net ethanol and acetate production from the wild type C. thermocellum strain (Cth_WT) and a m (...more)

Enchi Corporation Licenses Joint Dartmouth College and ORNL Technology
"Engineered microbe could potentially move the payback period for a commercial cellulosic ethanol operation from 15 years down to two years," Bill Brady, Enchi CEO.

August 01, 2017

Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB) Awardees in BESC–2017
Brian H. Davison, Chief Scientist for Systems Biology and Biotechnology in the Bioscience Division at ORNL and the Science Coordinator in BESC, awarded SIMB Fellow 2017. Fellowship status is a special grade of membership in SIMB, acknowledging a career-long sustained record of significant research and/or service contributions to the profession of industrial microbiology and/or biotechnology.

Amanda Williams-Rhaesa, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia (Dr. Michael Adams' lab), received a 2017 SIMB Diversity Travel Award.

July 18, 2017

BESC glycosyl transferase work featured on cover

Mechanism of Fucosylation in Xyloglucan Biosynthesis revealed in Arabidopsis thaliana
FUT1 is a plant fucosyltransferase that carries out the final step in the synthesis of the hemicellulose xyloglucan, which is a major component of the plant cell wall and is involved in cell growth and expansion, energy metabolism, and signaling. X-ray crystallography revealed the structural architecture of FUT1 in complex with bound donor and acceptor substrate analogs, forming the basis for in silico studies that unraveled the mechanistic basis for fucosylation in GT37 enzymes. Structural and mutagenic analyses determined that there was no active site amino acid residue that could act as a base for catalyzing the reaction. In silico studies revealed the presence of a crucial water molecule that could conduct catalysis by shuttling the proton to enable a SN1-like mechanism.

July 14, 2017

Comprehensive Assessment of Glycosyl Residue Composition Analysis Methods
This is the first paper that provides side-by-side comparison of the efficacy of four different established methods in the analysis of glycosyl residue composition of cell walls from both primary wall-enriched leaf tissues and secondary wall-enriched wood/stem tissues of both dicot (Arabidopsis, Populus) and grass (rice, switchgrass) species.

July 11, 2017

2017 BESC Science Retreat
The Year 10 BESC Science Retreat was in Chattanooga, Tennessee from July 11-13, 2017 with 165 attendees from 13 BESC partner institutes.

July 05, 2017

adhA, nfnAB, and adhEG544D expression in C. thermocellum

Engineering T. saccharolyticum Ethanol Pathway into C. thermocellum Improves Biofuel Production
Clostridium thermocellum is a candidate for ethanol production from cellulose, but requires metabolic engineering to improve yield and titer. Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum was previously engineered to produce ethanol at high yield and titer. Four of the genes that are responsible for ethanol production are adhA, nfnA/B, and adhEG544D. Introducing the T. saccharolyticum genes into C. thermocellum significantly increased ethanol yield.

July 03, 2017

Linking Overflow Metabolism and Growth Cessation in C. thermocellum
Findings of growth cessation and overflow metabolism provide metabolic engineering and fermentation strategies for high substrate loading fermentations to achieve high product yields.

June 19, 2017

Improving Bioavailability of Carbohydrate to C. bescii in Natural and Transgenic Switchgrasses
The bioavailability of carbohydrates to C. bescii was evaluated in the switchgrass lines unmodified Cave-in-Rock (CR), transgenic COMT-KD and Myb4-OE, and their corresponding parental lines. Each switchgrass line was examined as either hydrothermally treated (180ºC for 25 min) or untreated. C. bescii growth and carbohydrate solubilization (cellulose and hemicellulose) were determined for each treatment scheme (microbial, hydrothermal, or a combination of both). While C. bescii could significantly solubilize the transgenic switchgrass lines, including Cave-in-Rock, hydrothermal treatment was needed to solubilize 50% or more of the carbohydrate content.

May 01, 2017

Microbial hydrolysis changes poplar cell wall surfaces. Cellulose (yellow) decreases and lignin (blue or gray) becomes more prominent.

New Insights On Recalcitrance From Lignin Inhibition Of Microbial Deconstruction
Microbial solubilization of biomass selectively targets carbohydrates. Clostridium thermocellum, a highly effective cellulolytic microbe, can hydrolyze ~93% of 100gL-1 pure cellulose. The microbe solubilizes only partially hydrolyzes cellulose in untreated energy crops. Techniques used were quantitative fluorescence colocalization analysis and surface chemical imaging. Quantitative evidence for the cause of feedstock recalcitrance: depletion of surface carbohydrate increases lignin exposure which leads to inhibition of enzymatic activity, while the bulk residual biomass retains significant undigested sugar content. Limited hydrolysis is not caused by inhibitory hydrolyzed sugars nor fermentation products (i.e., ethanol).

May 01, 2017

Jonathan Mielenz, retired researcher from ORNL and BESC, was awarded the 2017 Charles D. Scott award (...more)

BRCs well represented at 39th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals
As part of the overall symposium the three DOE BRCs presented a combined total of twenty-two talks, including two as collaborations between the BRCs, and thirty-nine posters representing 28% of the talks and 15% of the posters. The presentations and posters highlighted the accomplishments, as well as common challenges in organization and research, in carrying out impactful mission-directed R&D in bioenergy.

April 17, 2017

Photos of the field experiments in the first (2013), second (2014), and third (2015) growing seasons (...more)

Multi-Year Study Of Transgenic Switchgrass Plants In Regulation Shows Improved Yield And Dependency On Expression Levels
Four promising lines with moderate or low microRNA (miR156) overexpression from prior greenhouse study were selected for a field experiment to assess miR156 expression levels and biomass yields over three years. The best performing line consistently produced more biomass (25-56%) than the control in all three seasons, which translated to the production of 30% more biofuel per plant in the final season. Transgenic plants with modifications to transcriptional regulators, which impact such a broad range of genes, will likely require more extensive field evaluations than those with single and simple trait gene modifications to evaluate the stability of the desired growth phenotypes.

More Publications

Publication Date Citation

BioEnergy Science Center one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy.