MaxBio - Maximizing Conversion Yields in Biorefining

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: School of Life Sciences

Abstract

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

Replacing petrochemical-based fuels and chemicals with equivalent products from renewable plant biomass reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and helps secures chemical and fuel supplies for the future. In 2014, Europe produced 6.6. billion litres of bioethanol fuel enabling 61% GHG savings compared to petrol (ePURE). However, such 1st generation grain-based biofuels are controversial due to perceived conflicts between fuel and food production. By contrast, cellulosic biofuels made from non-food crop biomass (e.g. straw) represent co-products that improve the economics of producing food. Unfortunately, in the face of current cheap oil, the emerging cellulosic fuel/chemical industry is struggling, and will only survive if sufficient value can be realised from the feedstock by maximizing product yields and generating fuels and chemicals with broader uses and higher value than ethanol.

By 2030, the EU will produce enough biowaste to replace 16% of petrol/diesel with advanced biofuels that emit 60% less GHGs (full LCA) and contribute up to €15 billion p.a. to rural economies (NNFCC/ ICCT report). Similarly, the IEA World Energy Outlook predicts that biofuel production will grow 3-4 fold to 2025, stimulating economic growth in the sector. Use of renewable materials to make chemical intermediates currently represents only 5% of the total chemicals market but is forecasted to reach 35% by 2030. A new EU biorefining industry will create: 83K jobs in agriculture, 13K jobs in refineries, 162K jobs in construction, with additional indirect jobs. Smarter use of land to produce food and fuel should reduce public anxiety about biofuels. Biorefineries making advanced fuels and chemicals from renewable carbon-neutral plant biomass could therefore revolutionize the industrial landscape, but only if sufficient value can be extracted by reducing production costs and making higher value products. MaxBio could radically improve the cost and efficiency of producing a range of rewable fuels and chemicals to replace oil-derived products.

Our vision is aligned with European and National policies towards a sustainable biobased economy. Both customers and industrial markets are looking for greater use of environmentally sustainable renewable materials in products that maintain or enhance performance compared to petroleum-derived counterparts. The UK has the resource to produce some of these new products. A recent LBNet report put UK total lignocellulosic biomass waste at 16 million tonnes p.a. (Lignocellulosic Feedstock in the UK; NNFCC 2014) which, if converted to fuel, would potentially be enough to displace 16% of petrol use. Conversion to butanol or other chemicals might unlock even more valuable markets. Platform chemicals derived from biomass waste can have hugely diverse applications in high performance fluids/ lubricants, paints, adhesives, inks, household cleaners, cosmetics and fragrances, personal care items, textiles, and flavours. UK-based companies need to bring production costs down and increase process efficiency to competitively exploit these huge global markets. MaxBio will help to achieve this with subsequent clear benefits to the UK economy by investigating the factors within our expertise i.e. biomass quality, enzyme discovery, strain engineering, and joining them together to focus on the industrial imperative of yield. Societal acceptability will play a crucial role in determining the adoption of sustainable processes for producing bio-based alternatives to products currently produced from petrochemicals. MaxBio is committed to Responsible Research and Innovation and will consult with social scientists to ensure its impacts are foreseen and addressed appropriately; we have been very active in public and stakeholder engagement and will continue these efforts to democratise innovation and minimise risk while transforming our agriculture and industry with more productive and sustainable practices.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have identified regions in the barley genome that influence straw digestibility and lignin content. Within these regions we have identified several 'candidate' genes likely to be responsible for these influences. We have begun to breed new barley varieties with good combinations of these genes. These could be useful for future industrial biotechnology aimed at making biofuels and chemicals from agricultural wastes. Along with our collaborators at the University of York, we have tested several pretreatments against lots of barley cultivars and determined which are most useful for releasing sugars that could be used to make biofules and chemicals. We are beginning to test the influence of different enzyme cocktails on the yield of sugars released, and we have made progress at developing bacteria that can convert the sugars into useful chemical products.
Exploitation Route Our work could be useful for future industrial biotechnology aimed at making biofuels and chemicals from agricultural wastes.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

 
Description Developing Rice Straw for Animal Feed
Amount £705,293 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P022499/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2017 
End 04/2019
 
Description Developing rice resources for resilience to climate change and mitigation of carbon emissions
Amount £96,958,042 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/N013689/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 05/2019
 
Description Understanding barley straw traits to improve sustainability and crop yields in Ethiopia
Amount £91,189 (GBP)
Funding ID CHG\R1\170091 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 11/2018
 
Title Abbey Meiosis CRISPR 
Description Successful use of CRISPR-Cas9 in transgenic barley 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Invitations to speak at scientific meetings e.g. forthcoming SEB Plant Satellite Meeting on New Breeding Technologies, Gothenberg, July 2017 
 
Description Exploring partnerships in barley and cell wall research with australian ECRs 
Organisation University of Adelaide
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provided funding for up to seven excellent early career researchers from Australia to visit Dundee with a view to setting up strategic research partnershis for the future. Funding was provided via a successful bid to the UUKI Rutherford Fund : RF-2018-30 - Rutherford Fund Strategic Partner Grant 2018 (£ 150000; 2018 - 2019)
Collaborator Contribution ECRs will visit Dundee for 1-12 months each and perform collaborative research which will lead to longer-term future interactions.
Impact Plant biologists; crop breeders; bioinformaticists; genome scientists
Start Year 2018
 
Description International Scientific Interchange Scheme with Vietnam 'Developing a cereal straw biorefinery using rice as a model and a feedstock 
Organisation University of York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Training to visiting researcher who brought rice seeds, grew them in Dundee, received help and training in genome-by-sequencing, collected straw samples for phenotyping and performed GWAS
Collaborator Contribution In York, straw samples were phenotypes for saccharification sugar yield. In Vietnam, seeds were assembled for a rice GWAS population.
Impact Further collaborative funding through the Newton Fund
Start Year 2012
 
Description International Scientific Interchange Scheme with Vietnam 'Developing a cereal straw biorefinery using rice as a model and a feedstock 
Organisation Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science
Department Field Crops Research Institute
Country Viet Nam 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Training to visiting researcher who brought rice seeds, grew them in Dundee, received help and training in genome-by-sequencing, collected straw samples for phenotyping and performed GWAS
Collaborator Contribution In York, straw samples were phenotypes for saccharification sugar yield. In Vietnam, seeds were assembled for a rice GWAS population.
Impact Further collaborative funding through the Newton Fund
Start Year 2012
 
Description University of Dundee-University of Queensland barley Speed breeding project 
Organisation University of Queensland
Department Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Two month placement at the University of Queensland to learn the Speed breeding technique/evaluate barley straw saccharification in an Australian barley panel Collaboration with Lee Hickey's lab group based at the University of Queensland. Lee Hickey is part of QAAFI (The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation) and a lead researcher in Speed breeding growth systems
Collaborator Contribution This collaboration was to learn about the Speed breeding growth system which rapidly decreases plant generation time. The Hickey lab based at the University of Queensland have taken forward this method which was originally developed by NASA. Ruth worked with Lee Hickey's lab for a short placement. An Australian barley panel was grown in Speed breeding conditions, samples were taken for straw saccharification (sugar release) analysis. This will give us an insight into the saccharification range present in the Australian barley, straw sugar release is an indicator of potential biofuel yield from the barley straw. Samples were also taken of the barley panel from field grown material, this will allow a comparison of Speed breeding grown and field grown barley for straw saccharification. Many traits in plants can be scored in Speed breeding systems, it is currently unknown if straw saccharification can be screened for using the Speed Breeding system. If this is the case this will be advantageous for future breeding projects aimed at improving straw saccharification/similar traits, as plants can be taken through rapid generation advance by using Speed breeding growth systems.
Impact This partnership has led to further research of Speed breeding growth systems at the James Hutton Institute. A range of Speed breeding experiments will be carried out based at the James Hutton Institute that will show the potential that Speed breeding can have to plant science research in Scotland.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Annual School of Life Sciences Research Symposium 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The symposium was held from Thursday 16th March to Saturday 18th March 2017 at the Crieff Hydro Hotel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Beauty and Wonder or Plants Celebrated in New Exhibitions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two exhibitions at the University of Dundee focus on the wonder of plants and the role they play in our lives. In the Lamb Gallery, the exhibition Botanical Conversations features highlights from the University's Herbarium collection as well as stunning botanical teaching charts and beautiful works of art and creative writing inspired by plants. Exploring our own Backyard in the Tower Foyer Gallery has been put together by the University of Dundee Botanic Garden and highlights the current project to revamp the garden's native plants area.
Both exhibitions from Saturday 20 January and will run until mid-March.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Community Resource for Wheat Transformation Workshop 18th May 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Community Resource for Wheat Transformation project in the Sophi Taylor building, NIAB on Thursday 18th May. The workshop will include short talks, posters, problem-solving 1:1s with the NIAB Crop Transformation Team and networking opportunities with local wheat breeders and stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description DNA Discoveries Supper Club at Festival of the Future - Saturday 20th October 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The public engagement aims of the School of Life Sciences are to:
1. Build on our creative partnerships to deliver a high quality, innovative engagement programme.
2. Engage a range of people with our research.
3. Collaborate with our local communities to meet their needs and widen our reach.
4. Promote and support a culture of active participation in public engagement within our life sciences community. This includes students, research and non-research staff.

The University of Dundee's annual festival, Festival of the Future, features over 40 events over days. The DNA Discoveries Supper Club was an adult only art science event that took place in the School of Life Sciences as part of this festival. The aim of the event was to challenge the visitor's thoughts and assumptions about DNA modification by presenting viewpoints of artists and scientists.

Visitors were given a guided tour of artists Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Phillip Andrew Lewis latest art work, "Spirit Molecule I", that was on display at LifeSpace Science Art Research Gallery. This work was co-commissioned with NEoN Digital Arts Festival and considers the protocols for the creation of genetically modified memorial plants. Inspired by the work of DNA discoverer Dr Rosalind Franklin, the speculative design project fuses biotechnology with botany, and considers the past and future of scientific discovery and genetic inheritance.

During the subsequent two-course dinner, visitors were given micro-talks from the School of Life Science's world-leading researchers that complemented and challenged the questions that "Spirit Molecule I" asks. The speakers were Professor Claire Halpin, Chair of Plant Biology and Biotechnology and Professor Tom Owen-Hughes, Chair of Chromatin Structure and Function. Over the dinner the visitors were then able to have informal discussions with the artists and scientists where they were able to gain insights into current research, how artists are scrutinising genetic modification, and where we may go in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description GWAS workshop and a field trip in Vietnam from 8th to12th May 2017. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Rice resilience meeting, gwas workshop and a field trip in Vietnam from 8th to 12th May 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description IBioIC 5th Annual Conference, Glasgow 30th/31st January 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact IBioIC 5th annual conference on Wednesday 30 & Thursday 31 at the Technology & Innovation Centre in Glasgow

IBioIC's annual conference is the UK's largest IB conference, attracting over 450 bio-based professionals from across the UK and Europe to Glasgow to explore the potential of industrial biotechnology.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description LBNet 3rd International Conference 2018, 16-18th May, Shrigley Hall, Cheshire 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 3rd LBNet International Conference : Challenges and opportunities in Lignocellulosic Biorefining: Feedstock, Technology and Products
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description LBNet International Conference 5-7th April 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 2nd LBNet International Conference, "Challenges and opportunities in lignocellulosic biorefining: Science, Policy and economics"
5-7 April 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Newton Rice Resilience Annual Update Meeting FCRI, Hai Duong, Vietnam May 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Newton Rice Resilience Annual Update Meeting, FCRI, Hai Duong, Vietnam
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Newton Workshop Singapore 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop on 'Biorefining of oil palm residues' at the University of Technology Malaysia 27th-30th August organised by colleagues at York University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Parker Derrington Grant Writing Workshop - Presented by Andrew Derrington - Tuesday 29th May 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact External consultant, Andrew Derrington (Parker Derrington - http://www.parkerderrington.com/) who runs workshops, trains and mentors grant-writers, and writes and edits research grant and fellowship applications visited the School of Life Scienes on 29th May 2019 and presented a workshop to PI's and senior Postdocs. The morning workshop session was delivered to an unlimited number of participants and dealt with grant-writing tactics and strategy and teaches participants how the case for support works. The afternoon session was limited to 20 active participants, each of whom had a project to write about, an impending grant proposal or Fellowship application, or could be based on one already submitted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Plant Power Day - Sunday 20th May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This is an annual family activity day at the Botatic gardens. We provide interactive activities related to plant science such as DNA preparation from raspberries, jumping genes, root printing, along with displays on barley cultivation and uses, and biofuels from plants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Research project on barley in Ethiopia 29th - 3rd August 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Meet SHA offices in Addis - objectives for the visit are to establish meaningful collaborations and communicate and understand real issues on the ground that will address our focus on food security and subsistence farming in Ethiopia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Rice Resilience and Strawfeed Annual Update Meeting, Shrigley Hall, Cheshire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Attending: Simon McQueen-Mason, Reynante Ordonio, Manuel Regalado, Claire Halpin, Robbie Waugh, Leonardo Gomez, Duong Xuan Tu, Nguyen Van Tuat, Hong Linh, Le Thi Thanh, Nguyen Thi Huong, Nguyen Thi Van, Sue Hartley, Jamie Newbold, Caragh Whitehead, Svenning Moller, Emma Lindsay, Eva Ramos-Morales.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Second Barley Away Day - 6th/7th February 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talks at Second Barley Away day - by PhD students:
Ruth Hamilton - Accelerating Barley Breeding
Amy Learmonth - Identifying Candidate Genes/Loci Influencing Barley Secondary Cell Wall Properties
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Standing up for Science media workshop at the University of Edinburgh on Friday 22 September 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop was aimed at early career researchers in all sciences, engineering and medicine. In the workshops, they combined the discussion about science related controversies in media reporting with practical guidance and tips for how to deal with the press. In the second session of the day journalists bust some common misconceptions about the media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description UUKi Rutherford Fellows Reception 11th October 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact As a recipient of a UUKi Rutherford Fund Strategic Partner Grant a celebratory reception was held for the UUKi Rutherford Fellows on Thursday 11th October at the Warwick Business School at the Shard.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/International/Pages/welcoming-the-uuki-rutherford-fellows.aspx
 
Description Vietnam Workshop: GCRF Hubs - Can Tho, 9-10th October 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The objective of this workshop is to develop a research proposal for a funding competition in the UK entitled "GCRF Interdisciplinary Research Hubs to Address Intractable Challenges Faced by Developing Countries".
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017