SBIR Phase I: Feasibility of Manufacture of an Enzyme for Delignification of Pulp and Biomass to Improve Sugar Yield

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase I
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
Tethys Research LLC
53 Downing Rd, Bangor, ME, 04401-2716
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Nancy Kravit
(207) 942-9044
Business Contact:
Nancy Kravit
(207) 942-9044
Research Institution:

This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project helps unlock the potential of forests to provide sustainable, carbon-neutral raw material for much of the nation's energy and chemical needs. Current technology cannot efficiently separate cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin (the major components of wood as well as cellulosic biomass). Cellulose can be used to make paper, lignin can be burned to provide power, and hemicellulose can be used via fermentation to produce biofuels and platform chemicals. The major difficulty in fractionating wood is breaking ether bonds between lignin and hemicellulose. Research Objectives include: demonstration of novelty by comparison to known enzymes that are active against xylan, design of a pilot scale manufacturing process for the new microorganism and enzyme, determination of the enzyme's polypeptide structure through zymography, and identification via protein microsequencing. Anticipated results are: an enzyme that is available in pilot scale quantities for testing and the data necessary to create a recombinant enzyme suitable for manufacture on an industrial scale. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is to develop a novel, environmentally friendly production method for pulp products and to create new feedstocks for biofuels and platform chemicals. In pulp mills, Tethys's enzyme will allow previously wasted hemicellulose and hemicellulose-derived sugar to be recovered. Hemicellulose can be added back to pulp to increase yield or be converted, via existing fermentation technology, into building block chemicals and biofuels. Additionally, the presence of Tethys's enzyme in the pulp will loosen lignin, allowing better delignification with the use of less energy and chemicals compared to the current state of the art. Important outcomes of this research if successful, will be (i) wood, a renewable resource, will be more effectively used to meet a significant portion of America's energy and platform chemical needs; (ii) energy and industrial chemicals used in pulp and paper mills and cellulosic biorefineries will be reduced, and the resulting effluents improved; and (iii) America's mills and cellulosic biorefineries (and the rural towns where they are located) will receive an economic boost from reduced costs and increased revenues from higher yields.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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