Enzyme and Microbial Development

NREL's enzyme and microbial development researchers improve the performance of enzymes and microbes for fuels and chemicals production from a variety of biomass feedstocks.

In the process, we employ physical chemistry, biochemistry, computational modeling, and synthetic biology.

Two scientists in a lab working with High Throughput Recalcitrance Screening using the HTP Recalcitrance Screening Pipeline.

Featured Publications

Revealing Nature's Cellulase Diversity: The hyperactive CelA from Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, Science (2013)

How Does Plant Cell Wall Nanoscale Architecture Correlate With Enzymatic Digestibility?, Science (2012)

Biomass Recalcitrance: Engineering Plants and Enzymes for Biofuels Production, Science (2007)

View all NREL enzyme and microbe development publications


Photo of a male scientist wearing safety glasses in a lab watching a robot dispensing samples of powdered biomass into a reactor plate, part of the high-throughput biomass recalcitrance pipeline to analyze the way potential biofuels feedstocks give up their sugars.


We test multiple biomass feedstocks with the standard and exploratory process of pretreatment, enzyme hydrolysis, and microbial conversion.

Photo of a female scientist wearing safety glasses examining yellow bacteria-producing chemicals growing in a clear beaker in a lab.


Our microbial menagerie spans from hyperthermophilic bacteria to industrial filamentous fungi and yeast, as well as unique eukaryotic cellulose degraders such as social amoebae and aquatic crustaceans.

Photo of a male scientist wearing safety glasses examining the molecular weight of cellA on blue and white containers of SDS PAGE gel in a laboratory.


Leveraging our expertise in protein structure/function, physical chemistry, enzyme kinetics, discovery, crystallography, and characterization, we engineer enzymes both for biomass hydrolysis and metabolic pathway improvement.

Photo of two Erlenmeyer flasks showing a comparison between a clean Fischer-Tropsch diesel fuel (left flask with clear liquid) and conventional No. 2 diesel fuel (right flask with pale yellow liquid).


We combine metabolic pathway engineering with chemical catalysis to generate a variety of biofuels, biochemicals, and bio-materials.

Photo of a researcher in a blue-lit laboratory using an x-ray crystallography instrument to image crystal diffraction patterns of protein for 3-D imaging of enzymes.

Systems Biology

We use molecular biology, protein characterization, proteomics, and HTP screening to improve enzyme function and metabolic flux as well as create new metabolic pathways. We also improve feedstocks through engineering cell wall components and expressing enzymes in muro to enable more efficient hydrolysis.

Research Team

Group of men and women standing in front of hillside covered with shrubs and grasses

Principal Investigators

Related and Integrated Programs

Microbial Development and Metabolic Engineering

Strategic and Market Analysis


BioEnergy Sciences Center



Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Purdue University

University of Colorado, Boulder

Weizmann Research Institute