Developing land plant-based fuels that do not compete with food crops
Research carried out in the
Ethanol produced from plant biomass has the potential to be part of the low carbon solution to replace our fossil liquid transport fuels. Pressures on world agricultural resources, from issues such as climate change and an exploding world population, require creative solutions to produce these biofuels. The Dupree Lab focuses on utilising parts of food and materials crops that are normally discarded as waste, as well as species that flourish on marginal land with minimal agricultural inputs. Second generation biofuels avoid use of precious food resources, have a greater potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and use plant raw material that is cheap and abundant.
Plants store most of the carbon they take from the atmosphere in their cell wall polysaccharides. The plant cell wall is a complex mixture of cellulose, hemicelluloses (including xylan and mannan) and lignin. Current biofuel production focuses on cellulose, with hemicelluloses inefficiently used. Second generation biofuels need to utilise as much of the cell wall as possible, with minimal use of expensive chemical and enzymatic treatment, but much research is needed to make this an industrial reality.
Work in the lab focuses on many aspects of improving plants for biofuel production. These include:
- Understanding how plants synthesise cell wall polysaccharides
- Optimising polysaccharide synthesis and structure
- Characterising cell wall degrading enzymes
- Developing tools for polysaccharide analysis
Academics currently involved in the project include:
We are one of the six research hubs in . This virtual centre is composed of academic and industrial partners, based at each of the Universities of Cambridge, Dundee, Nottingham and York and Rothamsted Research.
Our contribution is the BSBEC Cell Wall Sugars Programme - developing strategies to improve plants and enzymes for increased sugar release from biomass. The programme aims to better understand how sugars are locked into plant cell walls. By doing this we can select the right plants and the right enzymes to release the maximum amount of sugars for conversion to biofuels.