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. Progress Made in Biomass-to-Biofuels Conversion Process

File photo of biomass, ready for production of biofuels.
by Staff Writers
Madison, WI (SPX) Mar 08, 2007
A collaborative research project between the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute has advanced the quest for efficient conversion of plant biomass to fuels and chemicals.

"We have sequenced and assembled the complete genome of Pichia stipitis, a native xylose-fermenting yeast," says Thomas Jeffries, research microbiologist at FPL. The results of this research project will be published in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology in April, and the report is currently available online.

The sequencing of P. Stipitis marks an important step toward the efficient production of biofuels because the yeast can efficiently ferment xylose, a main component of plant lignocellulose. Xylose fermentation is vital to economically converting plant biomass to fuels and chemicals such as ethanol.

"A better understanding of the genetic structure of this yeast allows us to determine how specific genes are used in fermentation and then reengineer them to perform other desired functions", says Jeffries.

For example, Jeffries explains that the fermentation of both glucose and xylose is critical to efficient bioconversion, because xylose is so abundant in hardwoods and agricultural residues. However, when glucose is present, the fermentation of xylose by P. stipitis is repressed.

By using their knowledge of the genetic makeup of the yeast, researchers will be able to alter the expression of the genes so that both glucose and xylose are fermented simultaneously. This will increase the efficiency, and improve the economic viability, of the process.

FPL scientists have been studying P. stipitis for 20 years and in that time have isolated and characterized several genes, developed improved strains, and recently licensed technology to a biotech firm for commercial development.

"We are very proud of Tom's research and the breakthroughs he and his colleagues continue to make," says FPL Directory Chris Risbrudt. "Publication in a journal of such importance to the scientific community demonstrates the capability of FPL's researchers and our status as a world-class facility."

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China Bans New Small Coal-Based Power Generators
Beijing (AFP) March 7, 2007
China will no longer allow new coal-based power generators with a capacity below 300,000 kilowatts to be built, hoping to alleviate pressure on the environment, state media reported Wednesday. New coal power generators should be equipped with facilities to reduce sulphur and soot emissions, the China Business News reported, citing the National Development and Reform Commission, the top planning agency.

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