Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blake Simmons On Creating Fuel From Plants

Fast Company
BY Rachel Z. Arndt

In this extended version of the talk from our new issue, we speak with Blake Simmons, the VP for deconstruction at the Department of Energy's Joint Bioenergy Institute. "We're not looking for a silver bullet," Simmons says. "We're looking for a silver shotgun."

"We're developing biochemical technologies to convert nonfood biomass into drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel. We're not looking for a silver bullet--we're looking for a silver shotgun. We're competing with the oil and gas folks, who have had 155 years to perfect their business models and technologies. To succeed, we have to create plants designed for conversion into energy, convert those plants into fermentable and cheap sugars, and convert those sugars into high yields of fuels. We have to process sugar polymers, which are what you target for fermentable sugars, and also lignin, which is the antibiofuel. First we pretreat the biomass to loosen everything up and de-lignify it. Then we add enzymes to the sugar polymers to liberate the fermentable sugars. Those get fed to organisms that have been engineered to pro- duce advanced fuels. Using synthetic biology, we can engineer these organisms to generate fuels you can take straight out of the fermenter and put into your tank."

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