SBIR Phase I: Development of Novel Maize Bioenergy Plants Using the LignoLink Technology
Intellectual Merit This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project takes a novel approach to produce improved maize cultivars for bioenergy applications. Lignin in cellulosic biomass creates a barrier that limits conversion of cellulose into biofuels. In the proposed approach, the lignin in crop cultivars is modified to improve conversion to liquid fuels. The Company previously demonstrated the approach in hybrid poplar. The Company has now produced 37 transgenic maize lines with the same lignin modification. The Company is characterizing the biomass composition in the stover (non-seed portions of the maize plant) from these lines, including lignin content, cellulose content, hemi-cellulose content, and protein content. The Company will conduct tests on several plants from each transgenic line for efficiency of conversion of the biomass into ethanol by gentle pretreatment methods. The Company will also conduct field trials with seed collected in the greenhouse from the 37 transgenic maize lines crossed to important maize inbred lines. The field-grown plants will be crossed to generate third-generation seed, and the fodder of the plants analyzed for biomass content and digestibility. The stover of these transgenic maize plants is expected to have increased cellulose extractability and significantly higher rates of conversion to ethanol. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project will be the development of new, more cost-effective feedstock cultivars of maize for the bio-based products industry. This project will also demonstrate the applicability of this new lignin-modification technology for improving bioenergy feedstocks for both annual and perennial crops. The treatment of cellulosic biomass for sugar extraction for production of biofuels and bioproducts is a challenging and expensive engineering issue. Pretreatment adds as much as 20% to the cost of biofuel production, and can be a limiting factor for economic and environmental viability of the new bioenergy industry. The lignin modification technology developed at Lignolink will be shown to improve the commercial viability of biofuels production by increasing sugar release from biomass, using milder, more- environmentally-friendly pretreatment techniques. The market potential for technology that improves biomass for pretreatment and sugar release is large. The ability to decrease biofuels production costs by improving biomass processing efficiency will help ensure profitability in biofuels production. Corn growers will have a new market for stover, which may surpass the market for first generation biofuels from corn seed. Scientific and technological understanding of a novel means for lignin modification in biomass feedstock plants will also be advanced.
Small Business Information at Submission:
335 Bradley Ave State College, PA 16801-6323
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