The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded two University of California Riverside (UCR) researchers with $1.3 million for waste-to-energy research focused on creating biofuels and biochemicals from waste plant materials. Charles Wyman, Distinguished Professor in Chemical and Environmental Engineering and holder of the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), and Charles Cai, Research Engineer at CE-CERT and Adjunct Assistant Professor, both with Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, lead the team that is looking to convert poplar wood into ethanol and polyurethanes based on novel platforms for pretreatment and lignin polymer synthesis.
The Wyman/Cai team has patented the method, Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF), and is using this platform to convert raw ag and forest residues into biofuels and other biochemicals. The goal is to create a pathway in which biofuels and biochemicals can be produced from biomass at high enough yields and low enough costs to become a market competitor to traditional fuels and chemicals. The research team believes CELF will enable production facilities to increase revenue by offsetting pretreatment costs, thus improving overall production economics.
“This project takes advantage of the unique ability of our novel CELF technology to effectively fractionate lignin from low-cost non-food sources of cellulosic biomass such as agricultural and forestry residues for conversion into polyurethanes that increase revenues for biorefineries while also enhancing ethanol yields,” explained Wyman. Wyman leads a team of researchers at UCR’s CE-CERT as well as their additional research partners University of Tennessee Knoxville and MG Fuels LLC.
The funding is one of seven institutions to receive a share of $10 million from the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), a joint initiative between USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Energy (DOE).