Development of environmentally benign and sustainable technologies is a critical need. Increasing use of renewables for producing fuels and industrial products necessitates a systematic approach for utilization of renewable biomaterials. Bioresources such as cereal grains, agricultural residue, animal waste, municipal waste and other byproducts from food and feed industries can be utilized for value added processing. Our research is aimed at developing  bioprocess technologies and comprehensive sustainability assessment tools for producing and processing renewable bioresources.

Lignocellulosic and Algal Biofuels and Bioproducts

Advanced second and third generation biofuels address many of the limitations and challenges of first generation biofuels such as capacity limitation and food vs. fuel issues. While advanced biofuels have potential to address these issues, this has not been realized at commercial scale due to various challenges in production and conversion of feedstock into biofuels. Use of renewable resources to produce fertilizers, plastics and other industrially valuable products is an integral part of reducing dependence on petroleum. Our research is focused to address some of these challenges.

The focus of our research program in this area is to:

  1. Model, optimize and control enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulose.
  2. Develop strategies for high solid fermentation of pretreated cellulosic biomass.
  3. Develop novel strategies for hydrothermal liquefaction of wet micro-algal biomass.
  4. Design and Implement bioprocess control systems
  5. Develop novel strategies for use of algal biomass as aquatic feed ingredients.
  6. Integrate waste water treatment with the algae production to reduce production costs.
  7. Evaluate use of algae in bioremediation applications.

Systems Analysis

Another challenging aspect of  large scale production of biofuels is in ensuring their sustainability. In particular, energy and water use in production of biofuels need to be addressed in a  holistic manner for establishing biofuels as long term sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. A comprehensive analysis of biofuels/bioproducts production must address: Technical feasibility, resource availability, economic viability and environmental sustainability aspects of sustainability.  We believe that these aspects must be addressed both at design and operational/deployment phases.

The achieve these objectives, our research projects focus on:

  1. Comprehensive integrated techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment of biofuels and bioproducts.
  2. Development of  tools for collection of life cycle inventory data and easy to understand sustainability metrics for specialty crops.
  3. Understanding metabolic network bottlenecks for xylose utilization in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
  4. Studying carbon partitioning in algae under different growth regimes, environmental and nutrient conditions.
  5. Understanding and quantifying key sources of uncertainty in LCA of biofuels and bioproducts.
  6. Development of control systems for automated management of algal cultures.

Collaborations and Funding Support

We are fortunate to have wonderful colleagues to collaborate at the following institutions:

  1. Oregon State University
  2. University of Hawaii
  3. Washington State University
  4. University of Minnesota
  5. University of Nevada, Reno
  6. Reed College
  7. National Agricultural Library, USDA
  8. USDA Agricultural Research Service(ARS-Midwest Area, Peoria IL; Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center, Pendleton, OR)
  9. ZeaChem
  10. Trillium FiberFuels

We are grateful to the following funding agencies for supporting our current research:

  1. National Science Foundation (Energy for Sustainability Program)
  2. US Department of Agriculture (National Institute of Food and Agriculture)
  3. US Department of Energy and US Department of Agriculture (Biomass Research and Development Initiative)
  4. US Department of Transportation
  5. US Environmental Protection Agency
  6. Western Sungrant Center
  7. National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, Univ. of Arkansas-Walmart Foundation
  8. Oregon State University General Research Fund and Agricultural Research Fund programs