Biochemical Process Development and Integration
Our mission is to develop, test, and demonstrate improved biochemically catalyzed processes to produce fuels and chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass.
Our research scope spans bench-scale research and development (R&D) of diverse biomass conversion and separation processes to pilot-scale integrated process development and scale up. We also perform extended demonstrations of complex bioprocessing operations at bench and pilot scales.
Accounting for all sugar produced during integrated production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass, Bioresource Technology (2016)
Continuous succinic acid production by Actinobacillus succinogenes on xylose-enriched hydrolysate, Biotechnology for Biofuels (2015)
Characterization of pilot-scale dilute acid pretreatment performance using deacetylated corn stover, Biotechnology for Biofuel (2014)
Bench-Scale Conversion Process Development
We develop and scale fermentation processes that produce fuels and chemicals from biomass with the ultimate goal of demonstrating cost-effective processes as part of a viable biorefinery model. We are particularly focused on integrating process steps at the 0.5–20L scales, operating at process-relevant conditions whenever possible and using techno-economic analysis to focus research and guide experimental designs. Our newly updated fermentation laboratory houses 38 bench-scale fermentors, ranging in volume from 0.5L to 5L, with full process control, data logging, and off-gas analysis. Our current projects cover the fermentation spectrum including anaerobic, micro-aerobic, aerobic, and gas-to-liquid processes that produce fuel intermediates and chemicals.
Separations Process Development
We develop and optimize separation processes to enable renewable biomass materials to be refined into bio-based products ("biorefining"). Our primary focus is on separation science and technologies useful for converting lignocellulosic biomass to energy dense liquid biofuel and higher value chemical products via biomass-derived sugar and lignin intermediates. Our work spans separations required both upstream and downstream in an integrated biomass conversion process. Upstream in the process, solid-liquid, concentrative, and polishing separations, such as ion exchange, are used to dewater, concentrate, and clean up (where required) intermediate lignin and mixed biomass sugar streams to meet specifications required for their subsequent upgrading. Downstream separations research focuses on microbe lysis and extractive separations for recovering oleophilic or organic acid products produced by sugar or lignin upgrading. In all cases, the technical goal is to improve separation process efficiency and economics by minimizing operating and capital costs (OPEX and CAPEX).
We also investigate application of in situ separations to conversion processes to achieve process intensification and thereby improve process economics. Our current focus is to integrate in situ solid-liquid separation with enzymatic cellulose hydrolysis to increase reaction productivity and lower the cost of producing cellulosic sugars.
Pilot-Scale Operations and R&D
We investigate and improve performance of integrated biochemical-based conversion processes for producing fuels and chemicals with the goal of demonstrating performance at pilot scale. We are evaluating how all of the different advanced biofuel production technology components work together and through such assessments, we are developing and implementing strategies to improve performance and reduce cost. Much of the work is done in a 500–1,000 dry kg/day pilot plant housing continuous and semi-continuous process trains performing biomass handling, pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, microbial conversion, and separation/recovery operations. We also maintain and upgrade this pilot plant to support both DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office activities and work for industrial clients.
Related and Integrated Programs
Japanese Gas Corporation
Membrane Science, Engineering, and Technology Center (NSF Industry/University Corporative Research Center)
University of Colorado
University of Pretoria
This program is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Technologies Office.