Department of Crop Sciences University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Agronomy Day 2006

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Biomass for Sustainable Energy Production

Martin Bohn Martin Bohn
Assistant Professor
Crop Sciences
S-110 Turner Hall, MC 046
1102 S Goodwin Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
mbohn@illinois.edu
Isaac Cann Isaac Cann
Assistant Professor
Department of Animal Sciences
457 Animal Sciences Lab, MC 630
icann@illinois.edu
Hans Blaschek Hans Blaschek – Food Sciences
Professor of Food Microbiology and Assistant Dean, Office of Research
Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition & Institute for Genomic Biology
488 Animal Sciences Lab1207 W Gregory Drive
Urbana, IL 61801-4734 blaschek@illinois.edu

Problem -How does genomic information allow for improvements in the efficiency of bioconversion of plant cell wall materials and fibers to value-added products? Several limitations need to be overcome before plant/crop-based resources and processes become a viable alternative to petrochemical-based systems for chemicals and energy. Genomic information offers an opportunity to address these limitations.

Research -The Molecular Bioengineering of Biomass Conversion Research Theme will draw together a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with backgrounds in plant genetics and genomics, microbial biochemistry, physiology, microbial ecology, chemical engineering and economic modeling to carry out a horizontal research strategy that addresses the fundamental challenges along the entire biomass chain from feedstock input to conversion processes and ultimately production, recovery and utilization. The research strategy will examine:

Benefits -By focusing on an integrated multidisciplinary approach towards replacing the petroleum-based economy with a biobased economy that uses agricultural crops and co-products as the platform, we anticipate production of commercially viable chemicals and biofuels, thereby adding value to urban and rural economies, while at the same time reducing environmental impact associated with petrochemical-based processes.

Case Study -The conversion of corn and corn co-products to value-added compounds such as biofuels and value-added feedstocks for the chemical industry continues to receive considerable attention. Corn stover is defined as the corn stalks and leaves minus the roots and corn cobs and has a relatively low economic value, on the order of < $50/ton. Corn stover represents the largest quantity of biomass residue in the U.S., with over 250 million dry tons produced annually, and as a result it is a formidable biomass resource for the generation of renewable liquid fuels. Although there have been concerns about the impact of corn stover removal on soil fertility, research has demonstrated that between 40 and 50% of stover can be removed without causing soil erosion or the depletion of soil carbon. It has been estimated that between 125 and 150 million tons of corn stover can be converted to biofuels and other chemicals in the U.S. annually. This amount of corn stover will generate between 81-97 million tons of fermentable sugars that will be available for conversion to renewable liquid fuels.

For more information about the “Molecular Bioengineering of Biomass Conversion” theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology and to obtain a list of contributing faculty and affiliates visit our homepage at http://www.igb.uiuc.edu/research/biomass.html.