Next: plant plastic

Next: plant plastic

 

BY LINDA BAKER

0712 NextMaking biofuels from plants requires breaking down the plant into sugars, which then ferment into ethanol. One of the challenges with that process is what to do with lignin, the tough glue that holds the plant fibers together. Corvallis-based Trillium FiberFuels, in partnership with Oregon State University, addresses that problem by advancing development of a unique enzyme called manganese peroxidase. The enzyme will not only accelerate the breakdown of lignin, but it may also lead to the manufacture of new eco-friendly lignin-based products, such as adhesives and plastics now derived from fossil fuels. Initial work on manganese peroxidase was conducted by OSU professors Christine Kelly and Curtis Lajoie, who developed a highly productive yeast in which the enzyme grows more quickly — and cheaply. (Manganese peroxidase does occur naturally in white-rot fungi, but in extremely small quantities). In some plants, lignin can be as much as 30% of the biomass material, says Trillium president Chris Beatty, who recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to commercialize manganese peroxidase. The goal “isn’t just to get lignin out of the way,” Beatty says. “We want to do something useful, by making value-added products that can replace petrochemicals.”