Chemical engineer awarded USDA funds to explore biofuels processes

Published: Jan 11, 2010 12:48:00 PM
Media Contact: Sally Credille, src0007@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

Jin Wang

Jin Wang

Jin Wang, faculty member in Auburn University's Department of Chemical Engineering, recently received a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for the project "Simultaneous Glucose and Xylose Fermentation using Coculture in a Novel Bioreactor." Wang's team will investigate coculture systems that create cellulosic biomass, the most abundant and inexpensive renewable feedstock used to produce ethanol for biofuels.

She will optimize the fermentation of a glucose and xylose mixture using the cocultures S. cerevisiae and P. stipitis, as well as develop a mathematical model to describe the dynamic interactions between the two strains. Coculture systems offer greater flexibility and economic advantages than monocultures used to produce cellulosic biomass.

"Because of its abundance in cellulosic biomass, xylose utilization is critical for commercial cellulosic ethanol processes," said Wang. "To make cellulosic ethanol a long-term, renewable energy source, there is a need for optimal microbes that can ferment xylose, as well as glucose, into ethanol with a high yield."

The U.S. biofuels market is dominated by corn-derived ethanol. The substantial future growth of fuel ethanol will depend upon the development of cellulosic ethanol processes, which could reduce both energy input and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85 percent compared to corn ethanol.

"Further growth of corn ethanol is restrained by the availability of agricultural land, water resources and the food versus fuel tradeoff, which is already causing concern," said Wang. "Cocultures tend to be more robust toward different disturbances, such as variations in feedstock composition and operation condition. At the same time, there are other specific challenges associated with coculture systems and limited research has been done to understand them."

For more on Wang's research and the Department of Chemical Engineering visit www.eng.auburn.edu/chen.