Friday, February 5, 2016

NREL explains the higher cellulolytic activity of a vital microorganism

Researchers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) say better understanding of a bacterium could lead to cheaper production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

Their discovery was made during an investigation into the performance of Clostridium thermocellum. The scientists found the microorganism utilizes the common cellulase degradation mechanisms known today (free enzymes and scaffolded enzyme attached to the cell), and a new category of scaffolded enzymes not attached to the cell.

The discovery came as a surprise to the researchers and explains the superior performance of C. thermocellum on biomass. A paper reporting the potential for the bacterium, "Dramatic performance of Clostridium Thermocellum explained by its wide range of cellulase modalities," appears in the current issue of the journal Science Advances.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

BESC study seeks nature's best biocatalysts for biofuel production

Researchers at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center are looking beyond the usual suspects in the search for microbes that can efficiently break down inedible plant matter for conversion to biofuels.  A new comparative study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory-based center find the natural abilities of unconventional bacteria could help boost the efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

ORNL Researchers Receive INCITE Award

Jeremy Smith, Xiaolin Cheng and Loukas Petridis of ORNL have been awarded a DOE Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) award providing supercomputer time on the ORNL TITAN supercomputer for their work in BESC and a Biofuels SFA.  The work will be on a generic plant cell wall and its deconstruction for bioenergy for 100 million core hours for three years.  Access to high performance computing resources offers unique opportunities to bioenergy research. Using INCITE we will be able to simulate many biomass components, such as cellulose lignin and hemicellulose, reaching longer lengthscales that that are not accessible using conventional computational resources. Longer lengthscales enable a tighter integration of computation with neutron scattering experiments performed at ORNL when researching for rational design of more efficient biofuel production.

Neal Stewart elected American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow

Dr. Stewart is the professor of plant sciences and holds the Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence in plant molecular genetics, and is the director of the Tennessee Plant Research Center at the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Stewart’s science focuses on:
  • Plant-based bioenergy
  • Phytosensor research and development
  • Gene flow and the prevention of gene flow from transgenic plants
  • Weed genomics
  • Extremophytes
Dr. Stewart teaches graduate level courses in plant genomics and research ethics and an undergraduate course in plant biotechnology and genetics. He has given scientific and lay-presentations around the US and in 16 countries. Dr. Stewart has authored or co-authored over 200 publications, including 4 books. He has editorial duties for 7 journals.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Energy-efficient reaction drives ORNL biofuel conversion technology

Chaitanya Narula led analysis of an ORNL biofuel-to-hydrocarbon conversion technology to explain the underlying process.

A new study from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory explains the mechanism behind a technology that converts bio-based ethanol into hydrocarbon blend-stocks for use as fossil fuel alternatives.
Scientists have experimented for decades with a class of catalysts known as zeolites that transform alcohols such as ethanol into higher-grade hydrocarbons. As ORNL researchers were developing a new type of zeolite-based conversion technology, they found the underlying reaction unfolds in a different manner than previously thought.
“For 40 years, everyone thought that these reactions must go first from ethanol to ethylene, and then from there it forms longer chains. We were able to show that it’s not how this occurs,” said ORNL’s Brian Davison, coauthor on the study published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Friday, August 14, 2015

BESC creates microbe that bolsters isobutanol production

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 14, 2015 – Another barrier to commercially viable biofuels from
sources other than corn has fallen with the engineering of a microbe that improves isobutanol yields by a factor of 10.

The finding of the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center, published in the journal Metabolic Engineering, builds on results from 2011 in which researchers reported on the first genetically engineered microbe to produce isobutanol directly from cellulose.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

New ORNL hybrid microscope offers unparalleled capabilities

A microscope being developed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National
Laboratory will allow scientists studying biological and synthetic materials to simultaneously observe chemical and physical properties on and beneath the surface.

The Hybrid Photonic Mode-Synthesizing Atomic Force Microscope is unique, according to principal investigator Ali Passian of ORNL’s Quantum Information System group. As a hybrid, the instrument, described in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, combines the disciplines of nanospectroscopy and nanomechanical microscopy.