Approaches for More Efficient Biological Conversion of Lignocellulosic Feedstocks to Biofuels and Bioproducts
The future bioeconomy promises drop-in or performance-advantaged biofuels and bioproducts derived from lignocellulosic biomass, substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions in sectors with few or no alternatives, and increased domestic energy production in countries with sufficient biomass resources. Despite the slower than anticipated pace of commercializing next-generation biofuels, the research community continues to make dramatic improvements at every stage of production, from feedstock cultivation through conversion to final products. However, the interdisciplinary nature of bioenergy research, and the need for cross-coordination among biologists, chemists, agronomists, and engineers, make coordinating and optimizing these strategies challenging. This Perspective surveys recent advancements in bioenergy crop engineering, lignocellulosic biomass deconstruction and fractionation, catabolism of biomass-derived sugars and aromatics, and biological conversion to fuels and products. We organize major research approaches into broad categories and comment on which strategies offer synergies or trade-offs in the context of four approaches to improving the economics and carbon-efficiency of advanced biofuels and bioproducts: (1) maximize sugar conversion to a single product, (2) utilize diverse carbon sources for producing a single product, (3) convert lignin to high-value products, and (4) fractionate the hydrolysate to derive maximum value from each component.