Our Mission

Removing Recalcitrance as an Economic Barrier for Sustainable Cellulosic Biofuels

The resistance of plant biomass to degradation (biomass recalcitrance) is the primary barrier impeding economical access to fermentable sugars that can be converted into advanced biofuels that replace petroleum. Convinced that biotechnological approaches hold the most promise for achieving breakthroughs to overcome the recalcitrance barrier, the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) is developing plants that are easier to deconstruct and microbes that more effectively convert lignocellulose into simple sugars. This research is centered on three focus areas: (1) biomass formation and modification, (2) biomass dconstruction and conversion, and (3) enabling technologies.

Biomass Formation and Modification

BESC research involves working with two potential bioenergy crops (switchgrass and poplar) to develop varieties that are easier to break down into fermentable sugars and to understand how plant cell walls are formed and can be modified to improve sugar release.


Biomass Deconstruction and Conversion

BESC research in biomass deconstruction and conversion targets consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) by studying model organisms and thermophilic anaerobes to understand novel strategies and enzyme complexes for biomass deconstruction. CPB is a single-step process to both deconstruct biomass and ferment resulting sugars to fuels.


Enabling Technologies

BESC researchers in characterization, modeling, and data management areas are engaged in (1) applying advanced technologies to analyze chemical and structural changes within biomass, and (2) storing, tracking, analyzing, and integrating data and understanding across the center.


Current Highlights

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Identification of key transcription factor that controls chlorophyll degradation and leaf senescence

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New Insights into Biomass Deconstruction from Deletion of Genes in Caldicellulosiruptor

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Rapid gene discovery and validation using the BESC Populus association population

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Characterization of various alkaline pretreatment methods on cellulose structure and accessibility (A joint BESC/ORNL Biofuels SFA effort)

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BESC Novel Approach to Bioenergy Outreach and Education

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Switchgrass transcription factors linked to nutrient efficiency in senescence

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Toward improving tolerance of thermophilic microorganisms to pretreatment inhibitors

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Field performance of modified switchgrass demonstrates a 'Goldilocks Effect'

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High-Performance Computing Delineates Chemistry of Lignin Synthesis

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Review paper summarizes insights from 20 years of bacterial genome sequencing

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Release of a genome dataset comprised of results from multiple sequencing modalities

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Overexpression of gibberellin 2-oxidases leads to reduced recalcitrance in switchgrass

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ORNL TITAN supercomputer used to determine molecular basis of reduced recalcitrance

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Highlights Archive

Publications

  • 07/01/2015
    Rapid estimation of sugar release from winter wheat straw during bioethanol production using FTIR-photoacoustic spectroscopy [ view document]
  • 06/26/2015
    Cofactor specificity of the bifunctional alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase (AdhE) in wild-type and mutants of Clostridium thermocellum and thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum [ view document]
  • 06/26/2015
    Genome-scale resources for Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum [ view document]
  • 06/22/2015
    A Novel Delivery Systemfor the Root Symbiotic Fungus, Sebacina vermifera, and Consequent Biomass Enhancement of Low Lignin COMT Switchgrass Lines [ view document]
  • 06/08/2015
    The need for biofuels as part of a low carbon energy future [ view document]

more publications