Fully utilizing biomass for biofuels and chemicals

EPA Grant Number: SU839320
Title: Fully utilizing biomass for biofuels and chemicals
Investigators: Wang, Donghai , Wang, Donghai
Current Investigators: Wang, Donghai , Sun, Susan Xiuzhi , Benitez, Chris , Li, Jun , Brown, Nathaniel , Pradyawong, Sarocha , Xu, Youjie
Institution: Kansas State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: February 1, 2018 through January 31, 2019
Project Amount: $14,964
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Sustainability , P3 Challenge Area - Energy


To maintain our society’s sustainability with respect to people, prosperity, and the planet, we must produce renewable liquid transportation fuels, such as bioethanol, at a price competitive to petroleum-based fuels. Commercialization of cellulosic bioethanol is still under development due to low fermentation efficiency, low ethanol titer, high enzyme cost, and high water consumption. To overcome these technical barriers, we have proposed a novel design to fully utilize each component of lignocellulosic biomass for biofuels and bio-chemicals production. A biorefining process involving green technologies, such as hydrothermal and organosolv pretreatments, could produce a cellulose-rich solid allowing for recovery of clean lignin after solvent recycling as well as xylose in the aqueous phase. Enzymatic saccharification and fermentation of cellulose-rich solids will be beneficial to enhanced fermentable sugar concentration and consequently higher ethanol concentration to reduce ethanol distillation cost given minimum ethanol concentration of 40 g/L is required for economical distillation. Utilization of solvent-extracted lignin for value-added products, such as bio-based adhesives, will be critical to achieve integrated biorefining optimization. A preliminary techno-economic analysis and life cycle analysis will be carried out to assess the project’s environmental, economic, and social benefits. Throughout this interdisciplinary work, at least four students will be directly involved and these students will benefit from their advisors’ expertise in biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass and bio-based adhesives. Through departmental graduate seminars and courses offered by the PIs, graduate students also have opportunities to learn advanced technologies in the field of biofuels and biomaterials. At the community level, we plan to involve undergraduate and high school students in this project, provide a workshop to an engineering summer camp targeting middle school students or during annual university open house event. Lastly, results from this project will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at professional conferences.


Available energy is essential to a continued healthy U.S. economy. Due to finite reserves, non-uniform distribution, and environmental issues of fossil fuels, we must explore alternative eco-friendly and renewable energy to support sustainable economic development. Biofuels, such as bioethanol, that are produced from lignocellulosic biomass could be solutions. The major challenges to commercialize cellulosic biofuel are low fermentation efficiency, low ethanol titer, and lack of technology to fully utilize byproducts from the bioconversion process. One example is lignin which has been underutilized. Therefore an integrated biorefinery is critical for successful commercialization of cellulosic biofuels. Here, we propose a novel biorefining process to achieve high ethanol titer and high ethanol fermentation efficiency while fully utilizing each component of lignocellulosic biomass for biofuel and bio-chemical production. The specific objectives are to: (1) Increase fermentable sugar (specifically glucose) yield through a two-step pretreatment: hydrothermal and organosolv. (2) Achieve high-gravity ethanol fermentation and high ethanol titer through an integrated novel process. (3) Develop protein-lignin polymers for bio-based adhesive application.

Expected Results:

Results from this project will reveal the optimal condition that resulted in the highest ethanol yield from hydrothermal and organosolv pretreated biomass. Enhanced ethanol concentration through the integrated process will significantly reduce the energy cost of ethanol distillation. Lignin extracted from the optimal condition will be used to develop ligninprotein based polymers for adhesive application. Because protein is more hydrophilic and lignin is more hydrophobic, we believe that protein and lignin adhesives could have improved wet adhesion strength. In addition, results from Phase I of this project will provide a solid foundation for Phase II which will aim to upscale the pretreatment and fermentation at industrial-relevant processing conditions as well as optimize the performance of protein and lignin adhesives. Results from this research will significantly contribute to accelerate the commercialization of cellulosic biofuel production and utilization of renewable and ecofriendly bio-adhesives for the wood industry.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

waste to fuel, environmental education

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report