Harnessing the solar energy in the cellulosic biomass of grasses and other non-food plants grown on land not suitable for food production could meet much of the nation's annual transportation energy needs. Advanced biofuels made from cellulosic biomass would be clean, green and renewable substitutes for petroleum-based fuels that could be dropped into today's engines and infrastructures with no loss of performance. For the cost-competitive production of such fuels, technology- transforming scientific breakthroughs are a must. To achieve such breakthroughs, JBEI is organized into four interlocking divisions.
Researchers in JBEI's Feedstock Division are developing specialty biofuel plants whose cellulosic biomass can be more easily broken down into sugars that can be synthesized into fuels. As this requires a better understanding of the genes and enzymes in cellulosic biomass, JBEI researchers are studying two model plant systems - rice and Arabidopsis.
Unlike the starch sugars in grains, the complex sugars in cellulosic biomass are locked within a tough woody material called lignin. To unlock these sugars, researchers in JBEI's Deconstruction Division are developing ways of pretreating the biomass to dissolve the lignin, including the use of environmentally benign organic solvents called ionic liquids.
Just as yeast can ferment the sugars in hops and grapes into alcohol, researchers in JBEI's Fuels Synthesis Division are engineering yeast and other microbes to ferment the sugars in cellulosic biomass into advanced biofuels and other chemicals now derived from petroleum. The goal is to extract these biofuels and chemicals from a single vat of feedstock and microbes.
JBEI researchers in the Technology Division are investigating and adapting new technologies that can help achieve JBEI's scientific goals. These technologies include high-throughput protein expression, purification and screening techniques; techniques for the characterization of genes and proteins in both natural and engineered plants and microorganisms; proteomics and metabalomics; and informatics and bioinformatics.