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  • richardmitnick 2:18 pm on October 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Biofuels, ,   

    From BNL: “Researchers Pump Up Oil Accumulation in Plant Leaves” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    October 7, 2014
    Karen McNulty Walsh, (631) 344-8350 or Peter Genzer, (631) 344-3174

    Increasing the oil content of plant biomass could help fulfill the nation’s increasing demand for renewable energy feedstocks. But many of the details of how plant leaves make and break down oils have remained a mystery. Now a series of detailed genetic studies conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and published in The Plant Cell reveals previously unknown biochemical details about those metabolic pathways—including new ways to increase the accumulation of oil in leaves, an abundant source of biomass for fuel production.

    Using these methods, the scientists grew experimental Arabidopsis plants whose leaves accumulated 9 percent oil by dry weight, which represents an approximately 150-fold increase in oil content compared to wild type leaves.

    “This is an unusually high level of oil accumulation for plant vegetative tissue,” said Brookhaven Lab biochemist Changcheng Xu, who led the research team. “In crop plants, whose growth time is longer, if the rate of oil accumulation is the same we could get much higher oil content—possibly as high as 40 percent by weight,” he said.

    And when it comes to growing plants for biofuels, packing on the calories is the goal, because energy-dense oils give more “bang per bushel” than less-energy-dense leaf carbohydrates.
    Deciphering biochemical pathways

    The key to increasing oil accumulation in these studies was to unravel the details of the biochemical pathways involved in the conversion of carbon into fatty acids, the storage of fatty acids as oil, and the breakdown of oil in leaves. Prior to this research, scientists did not know that these processes were so intimately related.

    “Our method resulted in an unusually high level of oil accumulation in plant vegetative tissue.”
    — Brookhaven Lab biochemist Changcheng Xu

    “We previously thought that oil storage and oil degradation were alternative fates for newly synthesized fatty acids—the building blocks of oils,” said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, a collaborator on the studies.

    To reveal the connections, Brookhaven’s Jillian Fan and other team members used a series of genetic tricks to systematically disable an alphabet soup of enzymes—molecules that mediate a cell’s chemical reactions—to see whether and how each had an effect in regulating the various biochemical conversions. They also used radiolabeled versions of fatty acids to trace their paths and learn how quickly they move through the pathway. They then used the findings to map out how the processes take place inside different subcellular structures, some of which you might recognize from high school science classes: the chloroplast, endoplasmic reticulum, storage droplets, and the peroxisome.

    team
    Brookhaven researchers Jilian Fan, John Shanklin, and Changcheng Xu have developed a method for getting experimental plants to accumulate more leaf oil. Their strategy could have a significant impact on the production of biofuels.

    “Our goal was to test and understand all the components of the system to fully understand how fatty acids, which are produced in the chloroplasts, are broken down in the peroxisome,” Xu said.

    Key findings

    syn
    Details of the oil synthesis and breakdown pathways within plant leaf cells: Fatty acids (FA) synthesized within chloroplasts go through a series of reactions to be incorporated into lipids (TAG) within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER); lipid droplets (LD) store lipids such as oils until they are broken down to release fatty acids into the cytoplasm; the fatty acids are eventually transported into the peroxisome for oxidation. This detailed metabolic map pointed to a new way to dramatically increase the accumulation of oil in plant leaves — blocking the SDP1 enzyme that releases fatty acids from lipid droplets in plants with elevated fatty acid synthesis. If this strategy works in biofuel crops, it could dramatically increase the energy content of biomass used to make biofuels.

    The research revealed that there is no direct pathway for fatty acids to move from the chloroplasts to the peroxisome as had previously been assumed. Instead, many complex reactions occur within the endoplasmic reticulum to first convert the fatty acids through a series of intermediates into plant oils. These oils accumulate in storage droplets within the cytoplasm until another enzyme breaks them down to release the fatty acid building blocks. Yet another enzyme must transport the fatty acids into the peroxisome for the final stages of degradation via oxidation. The amount of oil that accumulates at any one time represents a balance between the pathways of synthesis and degradation.

    Some previous attempts to increase oil accumulation in leaves have focused on disrupting the breakdown of oils by blocking the action of the enzyme that transports fatty acids into the peroxisome. The reasoning was that the accumulation of fatty acids would have a negative feedback on oil droplet breakdown. High levels of fatty acids remaining in the cytoplasm would inhibit the further breakdown of oil droplets, resulting in higher oil accumulation.

    That idea works to some extent, Xu said, but the current research shows it has negative effects on the overall health of the plants. “Plants don’t grow as well and there can be other defects,” he said.

    Based on their new understanding of the detailed biochemical steps that lead to oil breakdown, Xu and his collaborators explored another approach—namely disabling the enzyme one step back in the metabolic process, the one that breaks down oil droplets to release fatty acids.

    “If we knock out this enzyme, known as SDP1, we get a large amount of oil accumulating in the leaves,” he said, “and without substantial detrimental effects on plant growth.”

    “This research points to a new and different way to accumulate oil in leaves from that being tried in other labs,” Xu said. “In addition, the strategy differs fundamentally from other strategies that are based on adding genes, whereas our strategy is based on disabling or inactivating genes through simple mutations. This work provides a very promising platform for engineering oil production in a non-genetically modified way.”

    “This work provides another example of how research into basic biochemical mechanisms can lead to knowledge that has great promise to help solve real world problems,” concluded Shanklin.

    This research was conducted by Xu in collaboration with Jilian Fan and Chengshi Yan and John Shanklin of Brookhaven’s Biosciences Department, and Rebecca Roston, now at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The work was funded by the DOE Office of Science and made use of a confocal microscope at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, a DOE Office of Science user facility.

    See the full article here.

    BNL Campus

    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world.Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.
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  • richardmitnick 1:41 pm on August 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From LBL: “Going to Extremes for Enzymes” 

    Berkeley Logo

    Berkeley Lab

    August 29, 2014
    Lynn Yarris (510) 486-5375

    In the age-old nature versus nurture debate, Douglas Clark, a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, is not taking sides. In the search for enzymes that can break lignocellulose down into biofuel sugars under the extreme conditions of a refinery, he has prospected for extremophilic microbes and engineered his own cellulases.

    ext
    Extremophiles thriving in thermal springs where the water temperature can be close to boiling can be a rich source of enzymes for the deconstruction of lignocellulose.

    Speaking at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Francisco, Clark discussed research for the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) in which he and his collaborators are investigating ways to release plant sugars from lignin for the production of liquid transportation fuels. Sugars can be fermented into fuels once the woody matter comprised of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin is broken down, but lignocellulose is naturally recalcitrant.

    “Lignocellulose is designed by nature to stand tall and resist being broken down, and lignin in particular acts like a molecular glue to help hold it together” said Clark, who holds appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department where he currently serves as dean of the College of Chemistry. “Consequently, lignocellulosic biomass must undergo either chemical or enzymatic deconstruction to release the sugars that can be fermented to biofuels.”

    dc
    Douglas Clark holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley and is a principal investigator with the Energy Biosciences Institute. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

    For various chemical reasons, all of which add up to cost-competitiveness, biorefineries could benefit if the production of biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass is carried out at temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Celsius. The search by Clark and his EBI colleagues for cellulases that can tolerate these and even harsher conditions led them to thermal springs near Gerlach, Nevada, where the water temperature can be close to boiling. There they discovered a consortium of three hyperthermophilic Archaea that could grow on crystalline cellulose at 90 degrees Celsius.

    “This consortium represents the first instance of Archaea able to deconstruct lignocellulose optimally above 90°C,” Clark said.

    Following metagenomic studies on the consortium, the most active high-temperature cellulase was identified and named EBI-244.

    “The EBI-244 cellulase is active at temperatures as high as 108 degrees Celsius, the most extremely heat-tolerant enzyme ever found in any cellulose-digesting microbe,” Clark said.

    The most recent expedition of Clark and his colleagues was to thermal hot springs in Lassen Volcanic National Park, where they found an enzyme active on cellulose up to 100°C under highly acidic conditions – pH approximately 2.2.

    “The Lassen enzyme is the most acidothermophilic cellulase yet discovered,” Clark said. “The final products that it forms are similar to those produced by EBI244.”

    three
    A consortium of three hyperthermophilic Archaea that could grow on crystalline cellulose at 90 degrees Celsius yielded EBI-244, the most active high-temperature cellulase ever identified.

    In addition to bioprospecting for heat tolerant enzymes, Clark and his colleagues have developed a simple and effective mutagenesis method to enhance the properties of natural enzymes. Most recently they used this technique to increase the optimal temperature and enhance the thermostability of Ce17A, a fungal cellulase that is present in high concentrations in commercial cellulase cocktails. They engineered yeast to produce this enzyme with encouraging results.

    “The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae has often been used both in the engineering and basic study of Cel7A; however, Cel7A enzymes recombinantly expressed in yeast are often less active and less stable than their native counterparts,” Clark said. “We discovered that an important post-translational modification that was sometimes absent in the yeast-expressed enzyme was the underlying cause of this disparity and successfully carried out the post-translational modification in vitro. After this treatment, the properties of Cel7A recombinantly expressed in yeast were improved to match those of the native enzyme.”

    Collaborators in this research include Harvey Blanch, who also holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley, and Frank Robb from the University of Maryland.

    EBI, which provided the funding for this research, is a collaborative partnership between BP, the funding agency, UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    See the full article here.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 4:44 pm on August 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Berkeley Lab: “Bionic Liquids from Lignin” 

    Berkeley Logo

    Berkeley Lab

    August 18, 2014
    Lynn Yarris (510) 486-5375

    While the powerful solvents known as ionic liquids show great promise for liberating fermentable sugars from lignocellulose and improving the economics of advanced biofuels, an even more promising candidate is on the horizon – bionic liquids.

    Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed “bionic liquids” from lignin and hemicellulose, two by-products of biofuel production from biorefineries. JBEI is a multi-institutional partnership led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) that was established by the DOE Office of Science to accelerate the development of advanced, next-generation biofuels.

    “What if we could turn what is now a bane to the bioenergy industry into a boon?” says Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer who is JBEI’s Chief Science and Technology Officer and heads JBEI’s Deconstruction Division. “Lignin is viewed as a waste stream that is typically burned to generate heat and electricity for the biorefinery, but if other uses for lignin could be found with higher economic value it would significantly improve the refinery’s overall economics. Our concept of bionic liquids opens the door to realizing a closed-loop process for future lignocellulosic biorefineries, and has far-reaching economic impacts for other ionic liquid-based process technologies that currently use ionic liquids synthesized from petroleum sources.”

    Simmons and Seema Singh, who directs JBEI’s biomass pretreatment program, are the corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper is titled Efficient biomass pretreatment using ionic liquids derived from lignin and hemicellulose. The lead author is Aaron Socha. Other co-authors are Ramakrishnan Parthasarathi, Jian Shi, Sivakumar Pattathil, Dorian Whyte, Maxime Bergeron, Anthe George, Kim Tran, Vitalie Stavila, Sivasankari Venkatachalam and Michael Hahn.

    two
    Blake Simmons and Seema Singh of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) are leading an effort to improve the economics of biofuel production through improved deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass.

    The cellulosic sugars stored in the biomass of grasses and other non-food crops, and in agricultural waste, can be used to make advanced biofuels that could substantially reduce the use of the fossil fuels responsible for the release of nearly 9 billion metric tons of excess carbon into the atmosphere each year. More than a billion tons of biomass are produced annually in the United States alone and fuels from this biomass could be clean, green and renewable substitutes for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel on a gallon-for-gallon basis. Unlike ethanol, “drop-in” transportation fuels derived from biomass have the potential to be directly dropped into today’s engines and infrastructures at high levels – greater than 50-percent – without negatively impacting performance.

    However, if biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol, are to be a commercial success, they must be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. This means economic technologies must be developed for extracting fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass and synthesizing them into fuels and other valuable chemical products. A major challenge has been that unlike the simple sugars in corn grain, the complex polysaccharides in biomass are deeply embedded within a tough woody material called lignin. Researchers at JBEI have been cost-effectively deconstructing biomass into fuel sugars by pre-treating the biomass with ionic liquids – salts that are composed entirely of paired ions and are liquid at room temperature. The ionic liquids that have emerged from this JBEI effort as a benchmark for biomass processing are imidazolium-based molten salts, which are made from nonrenewable sources such as petroleum or natural gas.

    “Imidazolium-based ionic liquids effectively and efficiently dissolve biomass, and represent a remarkable platform for biomass pretreatment, but imidazolium cations are expensive and thus limited in their large-scale industrial deployment,” says Singh. “To replace them with a renewable product, we synthesized a series of tertiary amine-based ionic liquids from aromatic aldehydes in lignin and hemicellulose.”

    as
    Aaron Socha directs the Center for Sustainable Energy at the Bronx Community College in NYC.

    The JBEI researchers tested the effectiveness of their bionic liquids as a pre-treatment for biomass deconstruction on switchgrass, one of the leading potential crops for making liquid transportation fuels. After 73 hours of incubation with these new bionic liquids, sugar yields were between 90- and 95-percent for glucose, and between 70- and 75-percent for xylose. These yields are comparable to the yields obtained after pre-treatment with the best-performing imidazolium-based ionic liquids.

    “Lignin and hemicellulose are byproducts from the agricultural industry, biofuel plants and pulp mills, which not only makes these abundant polymers inexpensive, but also allows for a closed-loop bio-refinery, in which the lignin in the waste stream can be up-cycled and reused to make more bionic liquid,” says lead author Socha, who is now the Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy at the Bronx Community College in New York City.

    The current batch of bionic liquids was made using reductive amination and phosphoric acid, but Socha says the research team is now investigating the use of alternative reducing agents and acids that would be less expensive and even more environmentally benign.

    “Our results have established an important foundation for the further study of bionic liquids in biofuels as well as other industrial applications,” he says.

    This research was supported by the DOE Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 12:05 pm on July 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Bioenergy, Biofuels, , ,   

    From Berkeley Lab: “How Sweet It Is: New Tool for Characterizing Plant Sugar Transporters Developed at Joint BioEnergy Institute” 


    Berkeley Lab

    July 28, 2014
    Lynn Yarris

    A powerful new tool that can help advance the genetic engineering of “fuel” crops for clean, green and renewable bioenergy, has been developed by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a multi-institutional partnership led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). The JBEI researchers have developed an assay that enables scientists to identify and characterize the function of nucleotide sugar transporters, critical components in the biosynthesis of plant cell walls.

    build
    The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is one of three Bioenergy Research Centers established by DOE’s Office of Science to accelerate the development of advanced, next-generation biofuels. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

    plants
    A family of six nucleotide sugar transporters never before described have been characterized in Arabidopsis, a model plant for research in advanced biofuels. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

    “Our unique assay enabled us to analyze nucleotide sugar transporter activities in Arabidopsis and characterize a family of six nucleotide sugar transporters that has never before been described,” says Henrik Scheller, the leader of JBEI’s Feedstocks Division and a leading authority on cell wall biosynthesis. “Our method should enable rapid progress to be made in determining the functional role of nucleotide sugar transporters in plants and other organisms, which is very important for the metabolic engineering of cell walls.”

    Scheller is the corresponding author, along with Ariel Orellana at the Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile, of a paper describing this research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper is titled The Golgi localized bifunctional UDP-rhamnose/UDP-galactose transporter family of Arabidopsis. The lead authors are Carsten Rautengarten and Berit Ebert, both of whom hold appointments with JBEI, and both of whom, like Scheller, also hold appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division. (See below for the full list of co-authors.)

    The sugars in plant biomass represent an enormous potential source of environmentally benign energy if they can be converted into transportation fuels – gasoline, diesel and jet fuel – in a manner that is economically competitive with petroleum-based fuels. One of the keys to success in this effort will be to engineer fuel crops whose cells walls have been optimized for sugar content.

    With the exception of cellulose and callose, the complex polysaccharide sugars in plant cell walls are synthesized in the Golgi apparatus by enzymes called glycosyltransferases. These polysaccharides are assembled from substrates of simple nucleotide sugars which are transported into the Golgi apparatus from the cytosol, the gel-like liquid that fills a plant cell’s cytoplasm. Despite their importance, few plant nucleotide sugar transporters have been functionally characterized at the molecular level. A big part of the holdup has been a lack of substrates that are necessary to carry out such characterizations.

    “Substrates of mammalian nucleotide sugar transporters are commercially available because of the medical interest but have not been available for plants, which made it difficult to study both nucleotide sugar transporters and glycosyltransferases,” Scheller says.

    For their assay, Scheller, Rautengarten, Ebert and their collaborators, created several artificial substrates for nucleotide sugar transporters, then reconstituted the transporters into liposomes for analysis with mass spectrometry. The researchers used this technique to characterize the functions of the six new nucleotide sugar transporters they identified in Arabidopsis, a relative of mustard that serves as a model plant for research in advanced biofuels.

    “We found that these six new nucleotide sugar transporters are bispecific, which is a surprise since the two substrates are not very similar from a physical standpoint to the human eye,” Scheller says. “We also found that limiting substrate availability has different effects on different polysaccharide products, which suggests that cell wall polysaccharide biosynthesis in the Golgi apparatus of plants is also regulated by substrate transport mechanisms.”

    In addition to these six nucleotide sugar transporters, the assay was used to characterize the functions of 20 other transporters, the details of which will soon be published.

    “Thanks largely to the efforts these past two years of Carsten Rautengarten and Berit Ebert, we now know the activity of three times more nucleotide sugar transporters than are known in humans, and we have determined the function of two-thirds of the plant transporters as compared to one-quarter of the human ones,” Scheller says. “This is a tremendous accomplishment and we are already using this information at JBEI to improve biomass sugar composition for biofuel production.”

    Other co-authors of the PNAS paper reporting this research were Ignacio Moreno, Henry Temple, Thomas Herter, Bruce Link, Daniela Doñas-Cofré, Adrián Moreno, Susana Saéz-Aguayo, Francisca Blanco, Jennifer Mortimer, Alex Schultink, Wolf-Dieter Reiter, Paul Dupre, Markus Pauly and Joshua Heazlewood.

    people
    (From left) Berit Ebert, Carsten Rautengarten and Henrik Scheller at JBEI have developed an assay for characterizing the functions of nucleotide sugar transporters in plant cell walls. (Photo by Irina Silva, JBEI)

    This research was supported by the DOE Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 11:36 am on April 8, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From Berkeley Lab: “Sweet Success” 


    Berkeley Lab

    Berkeley Lab Researchers Find Way to Catalyze More Sugars from Biomass

    April 07, 2013
    Lynn Yarris (510) 486-5375 lcyarris@lbl.gov

    Catalysis may initiate almost all modern industrial manufacturing processes, but catalytic activity on solid surfaces is poorly understood. This is especially true for the cellulase enzymes used to release fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass for the production of advanced biofuels. Now, researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) through support from the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) have literally shed new light on cellulase catalysis.

    photos
    PALM – for Photo-Activated Localization Microscopy – enables researchers to quantify how and where enzymes are binding to the surface of cellulose in heterogeneous surfaces, such as those in plant cell walls.

    Using an ultrahigh-precision visible light microscopy technique called PALM – for Photo-Activated Localization Microscopy – the researchers have found a way to improve the collective catalytic activity of enzyme cocktails that can boost the yields of sugars for making fuels. Increasing the sugar yields from cellulosic biomass to help bring down biofuel production costs is essential for the widespread commercial adoption of these fuels.

    three
    From left, Jan Liphardt, Harvey Blanch and Doug Clark led the development of a way to improve the collective catalytic activity of enzyme cocktails that can boost the yields of sugars for making advanced biofuels. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

    ‘The enzymatic breakdown of cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars has been the Achilles heel of biofuels, a key economic bottleneck,’ says chemical engineer Harvey Blanch, one of the leaders of this research. ‘Our research provides a new understanding of how multiple cellulase enzymes attack solid cellulose by working in concert, an action known as enzyme synergy, and explains why certain mixtures of cellulase enzymes work better together than each works individually.’”

    See the full article here.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 3:41 pm on April 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Biofuels, JBEI,   

    From Berkeley Lab: “Department of Energy Renews Joint BioEnergy Institute for Another Five Years” 


    Berkeley Lab

    April 04, 2013
    Lynn Yarris

    “Reaffirming the Obama administration’s commitment to the development of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel energy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a five-year renewal of funding for the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a Bay Area multi-institutional scientific partnership. Under the renewal, JBEI will be funded at the rate of $25 million annually through 2018.

    jbei

    JBEI is one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs) established by DOE’s Office of Science in 2007 on the basis of a nationwide competition to accelerate fundamental research breakthroughs for the development of advanced, next-generation biofuels. Funded at $125 million for its first five-year period, JBEI was officially dedicated on December 2, 2008 at its state-of-the-art laboratory facility in Emeryville. Today the JBEI partnership, which is led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), includes the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California (UC) campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    Said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, ‘Developing the next generation of American biofuels will enhance our national energy security, expand the domestic biofuels industry, and produce new clean energy jobs. It will help America’s farmers and create vast new opportunities for wealth creation in rural communities. By investing in innovative approaches and technologies at our Bioenergy Research Centers, we can continue to move the biofuels industry forward and grow our economy while reducing our reliance on foreign oil.’”

    See the full article here.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 6:59 pm on February 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From Brookhaven: “Scientists Turn Toxic By-Product Into Biofuel Booster” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    February 4, 2013
    Karen McNulty Walsh
    Peter Genzer

    “Scientists studying an enzyme that naturally produces alkanes—long carbon-chain molecules that could be a direct replacement for the hydrocarbons in gasoline—have figured out why the natural reaction typically stops after three to five cycles. Armed with that knowledge, they’ve devised a strategy to keep the reaction going. The biochemical details—worked out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of February 4, 2013—renew interest in using the enzyme in bacteria, algae, or plants to produce biofuels that need no further processing.

    alk
    Chemical structure of methane, the simplest alkane

    two men
    Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin (left) and former postdoc Carl Andre. No image credit

    ‘Alkanes are very similar to the carbon-chain molecules in gasoline. They represent a potential renewable alternative to replace the petrochemical component of gasoline,’ said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, who led the research, which was conducted in large part by former Brookhaven postdoc Carl Andre, now working at BASF Plant Science in North Carolina, and Xiaohong Yu of Brookhaven’s Biosciences Department. ‘Unlike the process of breaking down plant biomass to sugars and fermenting them to ethanol,’ Shanklin said, ‘biologically produced alkanes could be extracted and used directly as fuel.'”

    See the full article here.

    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.
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  • richardmitnick 1:01 pm on January 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From ORNL: ” ‘Zoomable’ map of poplar proteins offers new view of bioenergy crop” 

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Tuesday, January 29, 2013
    Morgan McCorkle

    Researchers seeking to improve production of ethanol from woody crops have a new resource in the form of an extensive molecular map of poplar tree proteins, published by a team from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    map
    An extensive molecular map of poplar tree proteins from Oak Ridge National Laboratory offers new insight into the plant’s biological processes. Knowing how poplar trees alter their proteins to change and adapt to environmental surroundings could help bioenergy researchers develop plants better suited to biofuel production. The study is featured on the cover of January’s Molecular and Cellular Proteomics. No image credit.

    Populus, a fast-growing perennial tree, holds potential as a bioenergy crop due to its ability to produce large amounts of biomass on non-agricultural land. Now, a study by ORNL scientists with the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center has provided the most comprehensive look to date at poplar’s proteome, the suite of proteins produced by a plant’s cells. The study is featured on the cover of January’s Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

    ‘The ability to comprehensively measure genes and proteins helps us understand the range of molecular machinery that a plant uses to do its life functions,’ said ORNL’s Robert Hettich. ‘This can provide the information necessary to modify a metabolic process to do something specific, such as altering the lignin content of a tree to make it better suited for biofuel production.'”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:52 pm on January 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From Berkeley Lab: “Hitting the Sweet Spot for Advanced Biofuel Technologies” 


    Berkeley Lab

    January 25, 2013
    Lynn Yarris

    Earth’s atmosphere and the American economy would greatly benefit from the commercial development of clean, green and renewable domestic biofuels. Advanced biofuels, capable of a gallon-for-gallon replacement of petroleum-based fuels, are by definition, capable of exploiting common engine designs and using today’s fuel distribution infrastructures. Studies show advanced biofuels have a carbon life cycle that produces low or net-zero green house gases. Helping to commercialize advanced biofuels is the primary mission of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), the West Coast’s only state-of-the-art facility providing industry-scale test beds for laboratory discoveries in advanced biofuels research.

    abpdu

    unit

    ‘At ABPDU we can fill an important niche when it comes to the commercialization of advanced biofuel technologies,’ says James Gardner, the ABPDU’s Operations Manager. ‘There’s a term in the fuels world called the Valley of Death, where something that looks fantastic at the research scale, fails to pass through the gauntlet of scale-up testing that allows it to go on to the commercial scale. We can help nascent technologies navigate this valley and lower the barriers to market entry by providing a pilot plant that is very flexible and open-ended.’

    gard
    James Gardner

    Read a news release about the ABPDU opening here.”

    And, see the full current article here. Our problems of inefficient use of resources and a deteriorating environment for ourselves and our children are not going to go away until we research them away.

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 1:28 pm on January 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From Sandia Lab: “Engineering alternative fuel with cyanobacteria” 

    January 7, 2013
    Sue Holmes

    Sandia National Laboratories Truman Fellow Anne Ruffing has engineered two strains of cyanobacteria to produce free fatty acids, a precursor to liquid fuels, but she has also found that the process cuts the bacteria’s production potential.

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    Sandia researchers are cultivating new algae strains to create algal biofuels.

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    Truman Fellow Anne Ruffing looks at a flask of cyanobacteria with precipitated fatty acid floating on top. She has engineered two strains of cyanobacteria to produce free fatty acids, a precursor to fuels, as she studies the direct conversion of carbon dioxide into biofuels by photosynthetic organisms. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

    ‘Even if algae are not the end-term solution, I think they can contribute to getting us there,’ Ruffing said. ‘Regardless of however you look at fossil fuels, they’re eventually going to run out. We have to start looking to the future now and doing research that we’ll need when the time comes.’

    Ruffing favors cyanobacteria because fuel from engineered cyanobacteria is excreted outside the cell, in contrast to eukaryotic algae, in which fuel production occurs inside the cell.

    Ruffing considers her studies as proof-of-concept work that demonstrates engineering cyanobacteria for free fatty acid (FFA) production and excretion. She wants to identify the best hydrocarbon targets for fuel production and the best model strain for genetic engineering, as well as gene targets to improve FFA production.”

    See the full article here.

    Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.
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