Texas A&M AgriLife Research wins $2 million for biofuel research

By Texas A&M AgriLife Research | October 23, 2018

A $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office to Texas A&M AgriLife Research will help researchers investigate potential discoveries for waste products used in lignocellulosic biofuel production, turning them into valuable agents used in producing commercial products such as biodiesel and asphalt binding agents. 

Joshua Yuan, AgriLife Research scientist and director of the Synthetic and Systems Biology Hub in the department of plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M University in College Station, is leading the team of researchers under the grant.

“The conversion of lignocellulosic biomass has been around for many years, but many of the waste products can not be commercialized due to the configuration of these biorefineries,” Yuan said. “What we are trying to accomplish is developing a streamlined process where the biomass waste at these refineries can be fractionated to produce lipids for biodiesel, asphalt binder modifier and quality carbon fiber. All of these bioproducts can add great value to the economy and enhance their market value.”

Yuan said current lignocellulose bioconversion refineries burn off 60 percent of the lignin produced. Utilizing this lignin offers incentives such as improving the efficiencies of a biorefinery, reducing costs and lowering emissions.

“Developing a more efficient operation will allow this sector to produce many high-value products,” he said.

Yuan said their work will include developing an integrated biorefinery program or “a blueprint for future biorefinery development.”

“We want these plants to be able to scale up to one dry ton per day,” he said.

Yuan said the project is both an academic and industrial correlation.

“AgriLife Research is leading the project, while working with subcontracting companies and other institutions including ICM Inc. in Washington State and the University of Tennessee. They are helping with technical, economic and material analysis.”

Bruce McCarl, AgriLife Research economist in College Station, is part of the research team assisting with economic modeling. Fujie Zhou, research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, is another member of the team.

The project already has received accolades from the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, receiving the Regional Solid Waste Planning Award. Brazos Beautiful also awarded Yuan its Environmental Educator Award earlier this year.