Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Hope For Biomass Fuels: Breaking The Ties That Bind

Date:
April 29, 2009
Source:
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory
Summary:
Researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.

New research into the fibrous material derived from plant cell walls could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.
Credit: iStockphoto/Markus Wachter

Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have discovered a potential chink in the armor of fibers that make the cell walls of certain inedible plant materials so tough. The insight ultimately could lead to a cost-effective and energy-efficient strategy for turning biomass into alternative fuels.

In separate papers published in Biophysical Journal and recently in an issue of Biomacromolecules, Los Alamos researchers identify potential weaknesses among sheets of cellulose molecules comprising lignocellulosic biomass, the inedible fibrous material derived from plant cell walls. The material is a potentially abundant source of sugar that can be used to brew batches of methanol or butanol, which show potential as biofuels.

Cellulose is biosynthesized in plant cells when molecules of glucose—a simple sugar—join into long chains through a process called polymerization. The plant then assembles these chains of cellulose into sheets. The sheets are held together by hydrogen bonds—an electrostatic attraction of a positive portion of a molecule to a negative portion of the same or neighboring molecule. Finally, the sheets stack atop one another, sticking to themselves by other types of attractions that are weaker than hydrogen bonds. The plant then spins these sheets into high-tensile-strength fibers of material.

Not only are the fibers incredibly strong, but they are incredibly resistant to the action of enzymes called cellulases that can crack the fibers back into their simple-sugar components. The ability to economically and easily break cellulose into sugars is desirable because the sugars can be used to create fuel alternatives. However, due to the tenacity of cellulose fibers, the United States currently lacks an energy-efficient and cost-effective method for turning inedible biomass such as switch grass or corn husks into a sweet source of biofuels.

Working with researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centre de Recherches sur les Macromolécules Végétales in France, Los Alamos researcher Paul Langan used neutrons to probe the crystalline structure of highly crystalline cellulose, much like an X-ray is used to probe the hidden structures of the body. Langan and his colleagues found that although cellulose generally has a well-ordered network of hydrogen bonds holding it together, the material also displays significant amounts of disorder, creating a different type of hydrogen bond network at certain surfaces. These differences make the molecule potentially vulnerable to an attack by cellulase enzymes.

Moreover, in this month’s Biophysical Journal, Los Alamos researchers Tongye Shen and Gnana Gnanakaran describe a new lattice-based model of crystalline cellulose. The model predicts how hydrogen bonds in cellulose can shift to remain stable under a wide range of temperatures. This plasticity allows the material to swap different types of hydrogen bonds but also constrains the molecules so that they must form bonds in the weaker configuration described by Langan and his colleagues. Most important, Shen and Gnanakaran’s model identifies hydrogen bonds that can be manipulated via temperature differences to potentially make the material more susceptible to attack by enzymes that can crack the fibers into sugars for biofuel production.

“We have been able to identify a chink in the armor of a very tough and worthy adversary—the cellulose fiber,” said Gnanakaran, who leads the theoretical portion of a large, multidisciplinary biofuels project at Los Alamos.

“These results are some of the first to come from this team, and eventually could point us toward an economical and viable process for making biofuels from cellulosic biomass,” adds Langan, director of the biofuels project.

Funding for the project comes from Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD), which is the premier source of internally directed research-and-development funding at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The LDRD program invests in high-risk, potentially high-payoff projects at the discretion of the Laboratory Director. Strategic investments of the LDRD program help position Los Alamos to anticipate and prepare for emerging national security challenges.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Tongye Shen, S. Gnanakaran. The Stability of Cellulose: A Statistical Perspective from a Coarse-Grained Model of Hydrogen-Bond Networks. Biophysical Journal, 2009; 96 (8): 3032 DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.12.3953
  2. Masahisa Wada, Laurent Heux, Yoshiharu Nishiyama and Paul Langan. X-ray Crystallographic, Scanning Microprobe X-ray Diffraction, and Cross-Polarized/Magic Angle Spinning 13C NMR Studies of the Structure of Cellulose IIIII. Biomacromolecules, 2009; 10 (2): 302 DOI: 10.1021/bm8010227

Cite This Page:

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory. "New Hope For Biomass Fuels: Breaking The Ties That Bind." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 April 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422121904.htm>.
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory. (2009, April 29). New Hope For Biomass Fuels: Breaking The Ties That Bind. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422121904.htm
DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory. "New Hope For Biomass Fuels: Breaking The Ties That Bind." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090422121904.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

AP (July 24, 2014) — TSA administrator, John Pistole's took part in the Aspen Security Forum 2014, where he answered questions on lifting of the ban on flights into Israel's Tel Aviv airport and whether politics played a role in lifting the ban. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) — Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

TheStreet (July 23, 2014) — When The Deal's Amanda Levin exclusively reported that Gas Natural had been talking to potential suitors, the Ohio company responded with a flat denial, claiming its board had not talked to anyone about a possible sale. Lo and behold, Canadian utility Algonquin Power and Utilities not only had approached the company, but it did it three times. Its last offer was for $13 per share as Gas Natural's was trading at a 60-day moving average of about $12.50 per share. Now Algonquin, which has a 4.9% stake in Gas Natural, has taken its case to shareholders, calling on them to back its proposals or, possibly, a change in the target's board. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) — 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:  

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile iPhone Android Web
          Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins