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.