Woody and non-food biomass that can be transformed into fuels through a new method developed by scientists

Being able to produce biofuels from non-food biomass would greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without causing damage or in any case without withdrawing or using resources from the agricultural sector.

The main problem is lignin, a complex compound found in the cell walls of plants that blocks access to plant carbohydrates that must be divided into sugars and then fermented to be transformed into biofuels.

Purdue University, seems to have solved this obstacle. The study, published in Plant Biotechnology Journal and Biotechnology for Biofuels , describes how it is possible to increase the production of renewable biofuels substantially from vegetable waste and biomass that could also be grown on marginal land.

“Lignin is no longer a problem. We have a way to remove it and obtain useful products, as well as having access to plant carbohydrates for the production of biofuels, “says Nick Carpita, professor in the Department of Botany and Pathology of Plants involved in the study that this department has been carrying out for 10 years guided by Maureen McCann, professor of biological sciences.

The researchers were based on the discovery of Mahdi Abu-Omar, a former Purdue chemist who had discovered that using a particular nickel-carbon catalyst a cost-effective method could be implemented. to remove lignin without affecting the plant’s carbohydrates.

The Purdue team refined this method even more and developed a genetically modified poplar tree with an altered lignin structure.

They have thus managed to perform a relatively easy decomposition of the ramnogalatturonan, a substance similar to the pectin found in these trees, and have come to control the production of ramnogalatturonan lyase (RG-lyase), an enzyme that breaks the ramnogalatturonan, and removes the connections between cells.

At the moment these “engineered” poplars cannot be grown normally and therefore commercially because they are genetically modified organisms, however the results acquired by this research can be used in other modified crops, for example through CRISPR.

“We now know how to disassemble cell walls to produce various products, including transport fuel,” says Rick Meilan, one of the researchers who developed the modified poplars along with Clint Chapple. “What we are doing with poplar can help inform about what is done with other cellulosic raw materials derived from maize stem residues or sorghum biomass and rod panic.”