Biofuels Production from Renewable Biomass

Diagram of how solar energy is turned into biofuel

Developing alternative biofuels from renewable biomass has great potential to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuel while improving national energy security and addressing the environmental issues. The Renewable Fuel Standard mandates 36 billion gallons of biofuels should be produced annually by 2022, with 16 billion gallons coming from lignocellulosic biomass. Although ethanol has been the main candidate of transportation biofuels, butanol has several advantages over ethanol including low vapor pressure and tolerance to water contamination. Butanol is one of the promising advanced biofuels being pursued by the U.S. Department of Energy and Natural Science Foundation (NSF) for the next generation of alternative fuels. However, one of the major bottlenecks impeding production of viable biofuels from renewable biomass is the lack of cost-effective processes for converting biomass into biofuels including butanol.

Biomass pretreatment is needed to break down the recalcitrant structure of the plant cell wall for subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. However, the pretreatment processes generate inhibitors from the degradation of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, many of which significantly reduce the microbial growth and fermentation productivity. In this study, we will determine carbonyl inhibition on metabolites change in butanol fermentation with Clostridium. New approach will be developed to enhance butanol and hydrogen yield and productivity from biomass hydrolysates. Bioreactor, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), mass spectrometry and NMR will be used in the research. The protégé students will work on biomass pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis and butanol fermentation.


Headshot of Maobing Tu

Maobing Tu

Professor, CEAS - Environmental Eng & Science

701D Engineering Research Cntr


Our research is centered on the development of cost-effective processes for producing biofuels, chemicals and biomaterials from lignocellulosic biomass. Specifically, we focus on the interface between biochemical engineering and biomass processing chemistry in an integrated biorefinery process. Our research approach is to use a combination of computational study and experimental determination to understand the molecular structure-activity relationship of biomass-derived compounds in the biochemical conversion process.