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Our Mission

Removing recalcitrance as an economic barrier for sustainable cellulosic biofuels

Biomass recalcitrance is the primary barrier to efficiently and economically accessing fermentable sugars for advanced biofuels that will directly displace petroleum. Convinced that biotechnological approaches hold the most promise for achieving these breakthroughs, the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) is developing plants that are easier to deconstruct and microbes that more effectively convert lignocellulose into simple sugars.

Biomass Formation and Modification

BESC research involves working with two potential bioenergy crops (switchgrass and Populus) 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 (a single-step process) by studying model organisms and thermophilic anaerobes to understand novel strategies and enzyme complexes for biomass deconstruction.

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


Nanoscale Imaging

BESC researchers are building and applying imaging technologies and platforms to characterize the structure of plant biomass at the molecular level and assess how it is affected by chemical pretreatment. [More]


Leveraging Thermophiles for Biofuels

Because higher temperatures facilitate the deconstruction of lignin and release of simple sugars within plant biomass, thermophilic bacteria are promising candidates for biofuel production systems. [More]


Understanding Microbes Informs Optimization

In addition to their natural ability to break down lignocellulose, C. thermocellum and C. bescii have the surprising capacity to extensively deconstruct biomass (especially grasses) after minimal or no chemical pretreatment, a typically harsh and expensive step in biofuel production. [More]


Improving Tools for Studying Switchgrass

BESC has created a rapid, stable transformation protocol for switchgrass has improved the transformation efficiency from 20% to >90% and decreased the turnaround time for generation of new transformants from months to weeks. [More]

All Highlights…


  • 11/25/2014
    The effect of alkaline pretreatment methods on cellulose structure and accessibility [view document]
  • 11/25/2014
    Pen and Pal are nucleotide-sugar-dehydratases that convert UDP-GlcNAc to UDP-6-deoxy-D-GlcNAc-5,6-ene and then to UDP-4-keto-6-deoxy-L-AltNAc for CMP-pseudaminic acid synthesis in Bacillus thuringiensis
  • 11/18/2014
    Comparative analysis of the ability of Clostridium clariflavum strains and Clostridium thermocellum to utilize hemicellulose and unpretreated plant material [view document]
  • 11/11/2014
    Systems and synthetic biology approaches to alter plant cell walls and reduce biomass recalcitrance [view document]
  • 11/11/2014
    Single gene insertion drives bioalcohol production by a thermophilic archaeon [view document]

more publications