Enzyme Research Could Lead to Less Expensive Biofuels

New research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has discovered two approaches in which enzymes could break down cell walls more quickly and lead to less expensive biofuels for the transportation industry.

Five NREL scientists and one scientist from the Weizmann Institute of Israel conducted research that could lead to enzymes helping create less expensive biofuel. Their paper, “Fungal Cellulases and Complexed Cellulosomal Enzymes Exhibit Synergistic Mechanisms in Cellulose Deconstruction”, has been published in Energy and Environmental Science.

In order to reach the goal of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which involves the U.S. producing 36 billion gallons of biofuel each year by 2022, the high cost of enzyme treatment needs to be properly addressed. Enzyme treatment is a critical step in transforming biomass, such as trees and switchgrass, into liquid fuel. Microorganisms secrete the enzymes that naturally degrade plant cell walls and harvesting their sugars.

NREL scientists discovered that two enzyme paradigms, free and complex enzymes, can be used together to degrade biomass at the nanometer scale and enhances catalytic performance. By combining the two enzyme systems, the breakdown of cell walls becomes a faster and more efficient process, which could then make biofuel production a less expensive and time-consuming process, as well.

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