Fungi for Bioenergy: Development of a Sustainable Biomass Pretreatment System

EPA Grant Number: SU835708
Title: Fungi for Bioenergy: Development of a Sustainable Biomass Pretreatment System
Investigators: Canam, Thomas
Institution: Eastern Illinois University
EPA Project Officer: Lank, Gregory
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $14,892
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability

Objective:

Dwindling fossil fuel reserves threaten to deprive civilization of adequate energy in the future, which has sparked tremendous innovation and development of alternative energy technology. In particular, biofuels derived from biomass are expected to contribute significantly to the renewable energy portfolio of the United States. The primary objective of the proposed project is to explore the efficacy of using a common white-rot fungus, Trametes versicolor, as a natural pretreatment agent for residual biomass (corn stover) and dedicated crops (switchgrass, Miscanthus). This pretreatment approach was been shown to be effective at the laboratory scale; however, this strategy must be explored at the demonstration scale to be acknowledged as a viable, safe and sustainable alternative to traditional thermochemical biomass pretreatment techniques that may pose environmental risks.

Approach:

All project activities will be performed by a student team under the supervision of the PI. Briefly, three types of biomass will be collected from local farms (corn stover) or harvested from bioenergy research plots at Eastern Illinois University (switchgrass and Miscanthus). The biomass will then be processed and loaded into tumbling composters. Half of the tumblers containing biomass will be inoculated with Trametes versicolor while the remaining will be left untreated for comparison purposes. After twelve weeks of incubation, the biomass will be milled and utilized for fermentation, gasification, and physicochemical analyses to compare energy yield and material properties between the untreated and fungal-pretreated biomass. The student leaders for this project will primarily be from the Master of Science in Sustainable Energy program and Minor in Environmental Sustainability at Eastern Illinois University, which are offered through the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education.

Expected Results:

The pretreated biomass will be assessed for ethanol production, gasification output and physicochemical properties using a combination of technical and analytical equipment and processes. It is anticipated that fungal pretreated biomass will require less thermochemical inputs to process, yet have improved physicochemical characteristics. The proposed research activities will not only contribute to the degree requirements of the students, but will also provide them with technical and managerial experience. The number of students involved and the programs/clubs these students are associated with will be monitored. Productivity will be measured by the quantity and quality of research produced, as well as the number of publications, presentations and other distribution materials that are generated. The key outcomes include enhanced student education and demonstration of an innovative bioenergy technology that has the potential to be utilized by the bioenergy industry.

Supplemental Keywords:

lignin, cellulose, agricultural residue, saprophyte