Turning plant matter into fuel: Book by UC Riverside professor focuses on aqueous processing of cellulosic biomass

Jun 12, 2013
Turning plant matter into fuel
This image shows the recently published book about celllulosic biomass that was edited by Charles Wyman. Credit: John Wiley & Sons Ltd

A University of California, Riverside professor in the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department edited a recently published book that provides in-depth information on aqueous processing of cellulosic biomass, which includes wood, grasses, and agricultural and forestry residues, for conversion into fuels.

Charles Wyman, who also holds the Company Chair in Environmental Engineering in the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) of the UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering, led the development of the book "Aqueous Pretreatment of for Biological and Chemical Conversion to Fuels and Chemicals." The book, published by John Wiley & Sons, contains 23 chapters written by experts from throughout the country.

Charles Wyman's passion for was first expressed through a junior high school science fair project focused on solar energy storage. It grew as he earned a Ph.D. in engineering at Princeton, became a leader in biomass conversion at the Solar Energy Research Institute, now known as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and as an endowed professor at Dartmouth College.

In 1996, during his tenure at National Renewable Energy Laboratory, he edited the book Handbook on Bioethanol: Production and Utilization. He also co-founded Mascoma Corporation, a startup company focused on advanced technology for biomass conversion to ethanol, in 2005.

The just-published book focuses on aqueous pretreatment of cellulosic biomass to promote sugar release for biological, catalytic, or thermochemical conversion into fuels and chemicals.

Introductory chapters provide the rationale for converting biomass to fuels; its importance to national security, balance of trade, and the environment; and insights into biological and catalytic processing to fuels. Also included are in-depth information on the chemistry and biology of cellulosic biomass, leading pretreatments to facilitate its biological and to sugars, and methods important to assess the effectiveness of biomass conversion technologies.

In recent decades, interest in converting cellulosic biomass to fuels has closely tracked the price of petroleum: support jumps when petroleum prices are high and wanes when prices drop.

"That creates a big challenge," Wyman said. "The volatility of oil prices and associated enthusiasm for alternatives results in a very unstable environment in which to build a business."

Yet, cellulosic biomass conversion has unique and powerful benefits.

It has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and imported petroleum dependence and is widely available and inexpensive. For example, cellulosic biomass costing $60 per dry ton has about the same cost per energy content as petroleum at about $20 per barrel.

"The challenge is, and has always been, reducing the cost of breaking down cellulosic into sugars and other fuel precursors that can be converted into products, and aqueous pretreatment plays a pivotal role for leading biological, catalytic, and thermochemical routes" Wyman said.

Explore further: NREL teams with Navy, private industry to make jet fuel from switchgrass

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New process speeds conversion of biomass to fuels

Feb 08, 2013

(Phys.org)—Scientists made a major step forward recently towards transforming biomass-derived molecules into fuels. The team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers elucidated the chemical mechanism ...

New biorenewables technology moves closer to marketplace

Oct 24, 2012

(Phys.org)—A licensing agreement for a novel renewable chemical and biofuel production method between Hyrax Energy and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation promises to accelerate commercial development of the technology ...

Scientists improve biomass-to-fuel process

May 01, 2013

(Phys.org) —Los Alamos scientists published an article in the scientific journal Nature Chemistry that could offer a big step on the path to renewable energy.

Recommended for you

Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

10 hours ago

Environmentally compatible production methods for organic solar cells from novel materials are in the focus of "MatHero". The new project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aims at making ...

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

11 hours ago

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

11 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...

Ikea buys wind farm in Illinois

Apr 15, 2014

These days, Ikea is assembling more than just furniture. About 150 miles south of Chicago in Vermilion County, Ill., the home goods giant is building a wind farm large enough to ensure that its stores will never have to buy ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Simplicity is key to co-operative robots

A way of making hundreds—or even thousands—of tiny robots cluster to carry out tasks without using any memory or processing power has been developed by engineers at the University of Sheffield, UK.

Microsoft CEO is driving data-culture mindset

(Phys.org) —Microsoft's future strategy: is all about leveraging data, from different sources, coming together using one cohesive Microsoft architecture. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tuesday, both in ...

IBM posts lower 1Q earnings amid hardware slump

IBM's first-quarter earnings fell and revenue came in below Wall Street's expectations amid an ongoing decline in its hardware business, one that was exasperated by weaker demand in China and emerging markets.

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.