MaxBio - Maximizing Conversion Yields in Biorefining

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming while still managing to fuel and feed the world, many industries need to move towards using renewable carbon neutral feedstocks and away from using oil and petrochemicals. 'Bio'refineries making advanced transportation fuels and chemicals from plant biomass (i.e. agricutural wastes such as straw, or wood cuttings) have the potential to revolutionize the industrial landscape and make production of our fuels and chemicals more sustainable, but this will only succeed if sufficient value can be extracted from the feedstock to make the refining economically competitive with oil refining. This MaxBio project aims to improve the economics of biorefining by optimizing several different stages of the process in a holistic way that ensures that yields of end products are increased beyond what's currently possible.

Technical Summary

MaxBio will improve conversion yields from plant biomass into biofuel and chemical products, focusing on sugar production, sugar release and sugar conversion. By taking an holistic approach to increase yields across the whole process, and deploying novel multifactorial experimental design to combine improvements at various stages, we aim to transform process economics for biorefining. Targeting industrially relevant products including fuel butanol, expert UK academics will improve conversion yields at each processing step but more critically optimise yields across the entire process chain. Project deliverables include integrated process concepts for target products that have been validated at bench-scale. We will first maximise sugar yields from cereal straw, then optimise yields for novel pre-treatment, saccharification and fermentation technologies. Finally we will determine process economics, calculate reductions in greenhouse gas emissons and quantify societal benefits.

Planned Impact

As described in proposal submitted to IUK


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Oliveira DM (2019) Designing xylan for improved sustainable biofuel production. in Plant biotechnology journal

Description We have demonstrated that a mild alkaline pretreatment is the most effective one for facilitating the enzymatic saccharification of barley straw. We have trialled a series of suppliments to commercial cellulase cocktails and identified the most effective combinations for the saccharification of barley straw. Taking this combinatorial approach has proved very effective and we are applying this knowledge and approach to other feedstock in other projects such as Omnivore and our Newton Bhabha Industrial Waste project. Our work is leading the way to cost-effective low energy pretreatments and lower enzyme use in biomass processing.
Exploitation Route This work can underpin the development of a biorefinery based on barley, and other cereal straw.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Our work has led to substantial improvements in the efficiency of pretreatments and enzymatic hydrolysis of cereal straw, allowing us to produce hydrolysates with over 10% fermentable sugar content paving the way to cost-effective straw processing. this work has helped us to obtain additional funding (follow-on funding and Newton Bhabha) and closer associations with companies that can commercialise our work including, Wilson Biochemical, Jesmond Engineering, Prozomics and Natems Sugar Holdings.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic