Biochemicals from Cellulosic Biomass
The manufacturing of value-added chemicals is critical for the economic viability of biorefineries
About our Research
Sustained volatility in petroleum prices along with environmental concerns associated with the use of non-renewable hydrocarbons as fuels and feedstocks for chemicals have motivated the development of biorefineries. While there have been significant research efforts towards the production of biofuels, the economic viability of lignocellulose-based fuels is a significant challenge due to the recent trends of lower oil prices. However, biorefineries with a focus on higher-value chemicals can overcome some of the economic challenges associated with biofuels and can provide an alternative for the conversion of cellulosic feedstocks into value-added products. Traditionally development of microbes for biochemical production has mainly focused on the ones that naturally produced biochemicals such as succinate. However, the advances in genomics, protein engineering and mathematical modeling have opened up the possibility of a systematic approach to engineering of the microbial metabolism for the overproduction of a range of biochemical compounds. While this approach has been successful for the development of bioprocesses, it is limited to the suite of chemicals for which the pathways from sugar precursors are either already present in the organisms or can be transferred from other species. However, the diversity of biochemical function and in particular, the substrate promiscuity of enzymes, can enable the engineering of novel pathways, which would result in the production of an expanded range of chemicals that were hitherto made from petrochemical feedstocks.