PNNL to receive funds to turn fungi into fuel

By the Tri-City HeraldJanuary 4, 2013 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will receive up to $2.4 million over two years to make biofuels with the help of fungi, the Department of Energy announced Thursday.

The money was part of $10 million awarded nationwide by DOE to use new techniques to convert biomass into sugars that can be transformed into bioproducts and biofuels.

PNNL scientist Ken Bruno will lead a team working with fungi, which naturally break down plants, such as when mushrooms help decompose logs.

Previous PNNL research has focused on making enzymes that break down plants such corn stalks or branches on the forest floor into sugars.

This new project will develop a method using fungi to convert those sugars into chemicals and the precursors of fuel. These compounds can be further altered to make plant-based gasoline, diesel and chemicals that have traditionally been made from petroleum.

The PNNL-led research team will examine the pathways that fungi use to make organic molecules such as citric acid. Researchers will develop a metabolic model that maps the many steps fungi use so that other molecules may be made. The model will help increase the volume of fuel precursors produced by the project's method.

The project team includes PNNL, University of Southern California, University of Kansas, University at Buffalo, Denmark Technical University and Novozymes.

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