S1041: The Science and Engineering for a Biobased Industry and Economy
Statement of Issues and JustificationI. Title: The Science and Engineering for a Biobased Industry and Economy II. Statement of Issue(s) and Justification
A. The Land Grant University System, Resource Limitation, and the Impending Biological Revolution. A need for biofuels and other biobased products has been recognized as a national priority. The objectives of this project address research relating directly to SAAESD Goal 1 F (biobased products) and H (processing agricultural coproducts); research will influence Goal 5 B (rural community development and revitalizing rural economies) indirectly. The importance and extent of the problem is characterized by the fact that the U.S. must drastically reduce its dependence on petroleum. This is not the fetish of a small proportion of the population; the U.S. society as a whole recognizes the need to reduce its dependence on petroleum as a source of fuels, chemicals and other materials. If this research work is not conducted, the technical capability necessary to switch from a petroleum-based economy to a bioresource-based one will not be developed. The technical feasibility of the research is reinforced by the fact that this research will be conducted by professional researchers who currently are part of the Land Grant University system. As outlined in this project description, the Land Grant University system provides a unique capability to enable research for biobased products by providing a world class research network. Replacing petroleum products with those originating from biological sources will require significant fundamental and applied research efforts.
The Land Grant University system was established in 1862 for the purpose of providing colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts. This revolutionary approach to education has been remarkably successful. Since its inception, the Land Grant System has been the major driving force for the development of technology and an educated work force to use the technology that has maintained an exponential rate of increase in food production, outpacing the rate of human population increase. This success is even more remarkable in light of the fact that in recent years the increase in food production has occurred using constant land area. However, unprecedented societal changes are occurring in the 21rst century. Not only is land area called on for food production, but also for biomass production that will be converted to biofuels, biochemicals and biomaterials. In 2008 (time at which this Multi State Project was created), the price of a barrel of oil increased from $70 to over $140, emphasizing the urgent need for developing sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. Increases in energy demand and prices are mirrored with an increase in food consumption, rendering the situation extremely challenging.
Meeting food production needs are staggering. It requires 100 fold more energy to sustain the current U.S. standard of living as it is to nourish our bodies. For example, the U.S. consumes 100 quadrillion Btu annually for food production. Of the 100 quadrillion Btu/year used, energy necessary to sustain our population is 1.2 quadrillion Btu. The other portion of the 100 quadrillion Btu is accounted by agricultural and industrial production, liquid transportation fuels, heating and lighting needs. Having the goal of supporting a population of 10 billion at the current standard of living of the U.S. will require 4,000 quadrillion Btu annually worldwide. These demands cannot be sustained with the current technology base, and alternative and sustainable technologies must be developed and refined.
Although 2008 has seen the price of a barrel of oil more than double, responses to curtail energy needs were enacted already in 2007. The Energy Independence and Security Act was signed by the President in 2007 and set a Renewable Fuel Standard of 36 billion gallons per year of biofuels by 2022. Of the 36 billion gallon per year mandated by this act, corn to ethanol contributions will be in the realm of 15 billion gallons per year, calling for the production of 21 billion gallon per year of cellulosic biofuels. To produce 21 billion gallons per year of advanced biofuels, approximately 250 million dry tons of biomass will be required. Although, the Renewable Fuel Standard specifically addresses the production of liquid fuels, unprecedented activity in renewable energy research, such as wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and battery capacity is currently underway. To respond to these unprecedented demands, the DOE and USDA are aligning their programs and joining forces. The DOEs Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has created three BioEnergy Research Centers: BioEnergy Science Center in Tennessee, Great Lakes BioEnergy Research Center in Wisconsin and Joint BioEnergy Institute in California. Each center represents a multidisciplinary partnership with expertise spanning the physical and biological sciences, including genomics, microbial and plant biology, analytical chemistry, computational biology and bioinformatics, and engineering to accelerate the development of sustainable bioenergy production. In addition to the BioEnergy Research Centers, DOE is pursuing energy research efforts at their National Laboratories, such as National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Moreover, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energys Office of Biomass has created a Multi Year Program Plan (U.S. DOE MYPP), which enumerates specific milestones to be achieved in the production and handling of herbaceous and woody biomass, of agricultural residues and of municipal wastes and in the biochemical and thermochemical energy conversion protocols of these feedstocks. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is coordinating their effort with the Sun Grant Initiative.
Coordinated federal activities between the DOE and USDA are underway, leading to the development of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, which supports research in the private sector as well as in academia. USDA also supports National Centers, such as the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, that have groups devoted to bioenergy research. Moreover, USDA has developed its Energy Research Education and Extension Strategic Plan which contains four goals: 1) Sustainable agriculture and natural resource-based energy production; 2) Sustainable bioeconomies for rural communities; 3) Efficient use of energy and energy conservation; and 4) Work force development for the bioeconomy. The four goals are in line and complementary to the mission of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of DOE. To attain their four goals, the USDA is aligning itself with the Land Grant Universities.
These are truly extraordinary times, where Federal Agencies are coordinating their efforts so that sustainable energy production can become a reality. The Land Grant University system is in an unprecedented position where it can coordinate its activities with those of the Federal Agencies, so that it can contribute to existing momentum. The Land Grant University system provides a mechanism for leadership and technology development to facilitate the sustainable collection of 250 million tons of dry biomass, necessary for the production of 21 billion gallons per year of cellulosic biofuels. The Land Grant University system can be a partner to DOE and USDA for attaining the energy production goals. The Land Grant University system has within its ranks expert scientists in every area related to the capture of solar energy and its transformation to food, fuel, and shelter. The Land Grant University system can assist translating research results into real-life practices and participate in the creation of a work force to support the bioeconomy. B. Enabling New Bioindustries. This new biobased industry, be it for food, fuel, biomaterials or other coproducts is rooted in a sustainable and productive biomass production system. Perlack et al. (2005) reported that one billion dry tons of biomass can be harvested on an annual basis from U.S. land. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy set as a milestone in its Multi Year Program Plan (U.S. DoE MYPP) that 250 million dry tons of biomass is to be harvested annually. The term feedstock comprises agricultural residues and municipal solid wastes as well as herbaceous and woody crops. Whether one billion or 250 million dry tons, this is an enormous amount of biomass to be delivered yearly on a sustainable basis (Kumar and Sokhansanj, 2006; Cundiff and Grisso, 2008; Hoskinson etal., 2006). Creative arrangements will need to be devised to enable the production, collection, storage and transportation of this feedstock to the biorefinery. As an example, productivity will need to be increased, which calls for plant molecular biology transformations. Moreover, these feedstock production activities will need to be conducted in a sustainable fashion that respect the soil organic carbon content and minimize erosion (Lee et al. 2008). Additionally, these feedstock production and delivery activities will need to be conducted in a manner that does not hinder the existing food and forestry supply chains.
Fortunately, the Land Grant University system is not operating as a standalone organization, but can tie into existing momentum that is aimed at developing this bioeconomy. Over the past 20 years, engineers and scientists have made advances in the fractionation and bioprocessing of agriculturally based resources into raw materials that are required to obtain the principal building blocks for synthesis of new products (Corma etal, 2006; Huber, 2007; Ragauskas etal., 2006). Fractionation and bioprocessing are key to the transformation of feedstock into biofuels or other value-added products when following the biochemical conversion platform. The critical first step in biochemical conversion requires that feedstock be fractionated into constituent monosaccharides and modified to facilitate either enzymatic or microbial conversion. Several promising fractionation or pretreatment technologies have been evaluated through the work of the Consortium for Applied Fundamentals and Innovation (CAFI). Dilute sulfuric acid or sulfur dioxide, controlled pH, ammonia fiber explosion, ammonia recycle percolation and lime pretreatment have or are being evaluated on corn stover, switchgrass and hybrid poplar.
Pretreatments seem to be biomass specific, as ammonia fiber explosion appears to be the pretreatment of choice for corn stover, but dilute sulfur dioxide is preferred for biomass containing more lignin. In addition, engineering advances in bioseparation technologies are improving our ability to identify and separate reaction inhibitors and other biocompounds from the pretreated slurry (Mosier etal, 2005; Sun and Cheng, 2002). Advances in nanobiotechnology that take advantage of differences in physical and chemical properties to achieve separations of proteins, secondary metabolites and other organic compounds are only a few of the recent engineering achievements. In analytical biotechnology, chemical and biological techniques are combined and integrated into engineered devices or sensors for the detection and quantification of secondary metabolites and other organic compounds in a variety of bioprocesses.
Advanced biological conversion processes (enzymatic, microbial and physical/chemical) are important parts of the bioprocessing research agenda (Wyman, 2006; Lynd etal., 2008). Research groups throughout the U.S. are working on the development and characterization of microorganisms capable of utilizing all sugars that are present in the pretreated slurry. Better conversion organisms can be obtained by designing and inserting multifunctional enzyme complexes (cellulosomes) into the target microorganisms, enabling a faster conversion of biomass into biofuels. The bioprocess that consists of inserting cellulases into fermentation microorganisms is named consolidated saccharification and fermentation and is a possible route to enhanced biofuels production. Simultaneous saccharification and fermentation refers to combining cellulose treatment with fermentation and is another route that could enhance biofuel production (Zhang etal., 2007). Also, work aimed at reducing the energy cost of biofuel recovery from the fermentation broth is under way (Kim and Dale, 2005).
In addition to the production of biofuels, biomass can be deconstructed and transformed into valuable coproducts (Rausch and Belyea, 2006). High value phytochemicals, etc. can be extracted from the biomass prior to the biofuel conversion step, adding value to the overall biorefinery operation (Vaughn, etal, 2008; Tanko etal., 2005; Walker etal., 2006; Walker, 2002; Wang and Weller, 2006; Zhang etal, 2005). Fermentation residues can be combusted or transformed into lignin based value-added products. Furthermore, biomass can be deconstructed into basic macromolecules and reassembled into industrial materials (Rausch and Belyea, 2006; Chen etal., 2005; Reddy and Yang, 2005; Srinivasan etal., 2006;).
Agriculturally based bio-industries are driven by the enabling technologies of genomics and proteomics. Through these technologies, plant genomes can be deciphered and manipulated to produce both quantitative and qualitative changes in the organic constituents of plant biomass. Genomics and proteomics have provided us with a greater understanding of gene regulation and control of plant metabolic pathways to the point we can engineer metabolic pathways with unprecedented efficiencies and reliability. The combination of this knowledge allows engineers and scientists to be more creative and efficient in the development of novel biocatalysts, biomass conversion processes, and bio-industrial systems. Molecular biology has provided engineers and scientists with a number of tools that enable protein engineering, so that a number of traits can be expressed in microorganisms and in plants. For example, bench scale technologies show that switchgrass and poplar can be transformed through molecular biology to release their cellulose and hemicelluloses without requiring harsh pretreatments. Better conversion organisms can be obtained by designing and inserting multifunctional enzyme complexes (cellulosomes) into the target microorganisms, enabling a faster conversion of biomass into biofuels. Oil seed crops, including camelina and algae, can be engineered to contain higher lipid concentrations, increasing biodiesel yields per acre (Christi, 2007). Other bioenergy production research priorities have included biodiesel (Hanna etal., 2005) anaerobic digestion (Zhang etal., 2006) and co-firing (Turn etal., 2005).
The production of non corn starch biofuels will likely require the implementation of diverse methods of production. One such method, as an alternative to the biochemical conversion route, is the thermochemical conversion approach (Wang, etal., 2008). The greatest advantage of thermochemical conversion is the robustness of the feedstock deconstruction operation. Essentially, biomass is gasified at extremely high temperatures, in the realm of 800 ºC; and the gas is converted via fermentation or catalysis to fuel. Biomass also can be pyrolyzed in an oxygen starved environment at moderate temperature to produce bio-oils, which can be upgraded and refined to liquid fuels (Mohan, etal., 2006). Specifically, gasification produces combustible gases, tar and char. The distribution of products depends on the feedstock composition, bed temperature, gasifying media and bed pressure. Gasification is not a new technology, having been employed for several decades (Reed, 1981; McKendry, 2002). Innovative research is underway that links gasification with microbial conversion processes or with catalysis-based processes (Abu El-Rub etal., 2004). Bio-oils from biomass pyrolysis are faced with problems associated with high acid numbers and char solids and viscosity increase during storage. Research for innovative catalytic pyrolysis and catalytic treatments of bio-oils is underway. These novel reaction systems are evolving in response to the heterogeneity of most biomass resources and the realization there are important autotrophic microorganisms that are effective in converting common bioorganic compounds into more useful industrial or biomedical compounds.
Advanced biological conversion processes (enzymatic, microbial and physical/chemical) are important parts of the bioprocessing research agenda. Biological and thermochemical processes are the preferred paths for converting agriculturally based resources into industrial products (Klass, 1998). Bioprocesses tend to have higher reaction specificity, have milder reaction conditions and produce fewer toxic byproducts. These characteristics are consistent with the goal of developing industrial processes and systems that are environmentally friendly. Land Grant institutions represent a repository of scientific and engineering knowledge that can be utilized to catalyze the transition of society from a fossil fuel to a biobased economy.
Our Land Grant institutions attract some of the best young minds in this country and from the world scientific community. We need to tap this resource and begin to develop its potential for creating new and innovative systems for producing biobased products. We need to provide these students with fundamental training in the natural sciences, and engineering. They must be taught to think critically about structure and function of biobased industries and how to make these industries sustainable.
Many recent federal, industrial, and academic studies have concluded the U.S. economy of the 21st century will be biobased. During the transition from a petroleum-based economy to a biobased economy, products and processes based on biological raw materials will replace those based on fossil fuels. Biorefineries will use many types of biomass sources and produce a broad range of carbon based products, energy fuels, oils, and biochemicals, as well as a variety of biomaterials.
The educational infrastructure needed to provide such training for the nascent green collar workforce is not available in conventional academic programs, which provide a narrow focus and do not encourage interactions among students from different departments. Innovative training programs are needed that minimize these barriers and provide more integrated programs. These programs must train students to communicate effectively, solve problems, and design processes in a multidisciplinary setting (Walker etal., 2007).
Because the participants in this regional effort are dispersed geographically, a distance learning platform for courses developed as part of this regional project is recommended. Internet compatible courses can serve students in virtually any location. It is anticipated that other distance education media such as satellite communication methods could be used. In instances where internet delivery is impractical (e.g., lab based courses), conventional, on site course delivery may be the best model. In either case, the technical content of such courses should be disseminated, if possible, via publications in pedagogical journals.
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