Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Genetic Re-Shuffling For Abundant Energy

Codexis develops novel industrial biocatalysts, including enzymes and microbes, for use in the energy and pharmaceutical industries. The Codexis directed evolution platform (“MolecularBreeding”) uses DNA shuffling to generate a library of novel genes or genomes via recombination of selected starting or parental genes or genomes.

Codexis then screens the encoded library of novel enzymes or strains for those possessing desirable and improved properties and repeats the process until the resulting enzymes or strains meet or exceed the desired efficiency benchmark. _GCC
Royal Dutch Shell is working with Codexis and Iogen Energy Corporation to move beyond mere cellulosic ethanol to cellulosic hydrocarbons such as diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline. New catalysts hold the potential to greatly reduce the energy costs of such processing -- thus improving profitability and viability in tough economic times. More at the link above.

Iowa State University is taking the thermochemical route to cellulosic ethanol, concentrating on a new burner and new catalysts:
The burner....Gasifying biomass releases the fixed nitrogen as ammonia in the generated gases. Improperly burning gases containing ammonia could produce nitrogen oxide emissions. Kong’s goal is to develop a burner that will minimize the emission of such pollutants while maximizing combustion efficiency.

A conventional gas burner now at the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada will provide baseline data to develop computer models of the burner’s performance. Those models will test new designs that optimize the combustion of producer gas from biomass, and lead to the construction and testing of a prototype.

The catalyst. Victor Lin, a professor of chemistry, director of Iowa State’s Center for Catalysis, director of Chemical and Biological Sciences for the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and founder of Catilin Inc., an Ames-based company that produces catalysts for biodiesel production is leading the development of a new catalyst for ethanol production. Lin says it may be possible to efficiently produce liquid fuel directly from synthesis gas.

The key will be carbon-based nanoparticles just a few billionths of a meter wide. The particles are made from graphite and carry a transition metal that produces a chemical reaction. That reaction converts synthesis gas to ethanol.

Lin said there is an existing chemical catalyst that can convert synthesis gas to ethanol. But that catalyst has a very low yield of ethanol, produces greenhouse gases such as methane, needs heat up to 540 °F (282 ° C) and requires high pressures.

Lin said the new catalyst should work at lower temperatures and pressures while delivering a higher yield of ethanol. _GCC
These are just two of the many dozen well-financed approaches to producing cellulosic fuels. If you add in the efforts to develop biomass fuel cells, biomass gasification (IGCC, CHP) power plants, boost the growth of biomass, and synthesise high value chemicals from biomass, you begin to see that this is not your grandfather's botany or chemistry. To say nothing of DNA shuffling.

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