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Research Interests

Cellulose is a major structural component in all plant cells; as such, it is the most abundant organic compound on earth.  Since cellulose is a glucose polymer, it could potentially be used as an abundant and inexpensive fermentation substrate, particularly for the production of fuel ethanol. To produce ethanol from plant material, a more economical process for the conversion of cellulose to glucose is needed. A pretreatment of lignocellulosic feedstocks is necessary to hydrolyze the hemicellulose fraction and create more cellulose surface area.  After pretreatment, the material undergoes an enzymatic digestion to produce fermentable sugars, followed by a yeast fermentation to produce ethanol.  Devon Burke is currently investigating flocculants to facilitate recovery of sugars from solid-liquid hydrolysates following enzymatic digestion.  Brian Carter is investigating various ion exchange platforms for the recovery of inhibitory byproducts (such as furfural and hydroxymethylfurfural) from hydrolysates prior to fermentation.  This research is in collaboration with Dr. Todd Menkhaus.