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Enhanced Biofuels Production with Genetically Optimized Feedstocks by Multistage Pyrolysis

2015 USDA-NIFA Integrated Award

Principal Investigators and affiliations:
PI:  Dr. Laura Bartley (Botany and Microbiology, University of Oklahoma)
Co-PI: Dr. Richard Mallinson (University of Oklahoma)
Co-PI: Dr. Lance Loban (University of Oklahoma)
Co-PI: Dr. John Mullet (Texas A&M University)

Funded: $110,000
Start Date: 3/01/2015

End Date: 8/31/2016


Expected Outcomes

The overall goal of this project is to determine how chemically and physically altering sorghum and switchgrass biomass impact production of biofuels using two‐stage thermal processing.


The specific objectives are:

  1. (1) To determine the effects of mechanical (wet milling), chemical (pretreatment), and enzymatic fractionation of biomass on thermochemical products.
  2. (2) To determine how biomass structure on different scales influences thermal products.

The projected outcomes from this project will be the data and understanding of the relationships between plant structure and composition and the yield, quality and refinability of bio-oil produced from a large number of switchgrass and sorghum varieties. This understanding will directly contribute to the development of optimal feedstock-conversion biorefineries. “Optimal includes” not only economics, but as importantly, sustainability. This will be achieved by maximizing the production of biofuels while minimizing the required agricultural resource inputs, acreage, water, fertilizer, etc. The deliverables will be publications, presentations and required reports, but also an impact on not only our research program, but of many of the alternative efforts for producing biofuels, e.g. those involving other thermochemical and biochemical pathways. The successful application of the results of this work, will add significant economic value to the agricultural industry by facilitating substantial new acreage, requiring more employment, equipment, etc. Displacement of imported petroleum fuels with US grown sustainable biofuels that are economically viable can enhance the energy and economic security of the US. Current near-commercial cellulosic biofuels are not yet economic and the advances brought from this research may dramatically improve these economics. Estimates from the Billion Ton Study (Perlack et al., 2005, 2010) suggest that perhaps 30% of petroleum transportation fuels could be displaced by biofuels, assuming state of the art technologies (thermochemical and biochemical), with their low yields. Significantly increasing the yield could increase this to almost double, or 60% displacement, though this may be optimistic.

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