Michael R. Ladisch talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of
Article: Features of promising technologies for
pretreatment of lignocellulosic
biomass Authors: Mosier, N;Wyman, C;Dale,
B;Elander, R;Lee, YY;Holtzapple,
Journal: BIORESOURCE TECHNOL, 96 (6): 673-686 APR
Addresses: Purdue Univ, Potter Engn Ctr, Dept Agr &
Biol Engn, Renewable Resources Engn Lab, 500 Cent Dr, W
Lafayette, IN 47907 USA.
Purdue Univ, Potter Engn Ctr, Dept Agr & Biol Engn,
Renewable Resources Engn Lab, W Lafayette, IN 47907
(addresses have been truncated)
Why do you think your paper is highly
The conversion of non-food renewable resources (i.e., lignocellulosics) to
biofuels is a key area of interest. This paper gives an interpretative
summary and comparison of key advances and challenges to the economical
transformation of agricultural cellulosic residues to ethanol. The
information is presented by a team of accomplished researchers in the
field, giving the paper a sense of depth.
Does it describe a new discovery,
methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?
"If this helps to reduce costs, it
will also bring cost-effective commercial
facilities on-line sooner, thereby helping to
mitigate the generation of greenhouse
It describes the recent developments of leading pretreatments for softening
up the structure of cellulosic materials so that they are susceptible to
enzymes that break the cellulose down to fermentable sugars.
Would you summarize the significance of your
paper in layman's terms?
The paper shows that pretreatment of cellulose opens up its structure to
enzyme hydrolysis, and enables major enhancements in the yields of sugars
and alcohols from cellulosic feedstocks over material that is not
pretreated. Acid, base, and near-neutral pH pretreatments are being
examined, and in many cases are equivalent.
How did you become involved in this research
and were any particular problems encountered along the way?
This is a team effort among researchers who have each worked in the field
for 20 years or more. Pretreatment is a key step, and its application to a
range of cellulosic feedstocks must be understood for a successful
(cost-effective) cellulose hydrolysis process to be scaled up.
Where do you see your research leading in the
The methodology employed by my team will examine other substrates
(feedstocks) to better understand how differences in composition and
structure of divergent materials—for example, wood vs. switchgrass or
corn stover—affect pretreatment and hydrolysis.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications for your research?
We believe this will assist the complex process of developing, selecting,
and scaling-up steps that are at the front end of the processing system
which transforms cellulosic materials to ethanol. If this helps to reduce
costs, it will also bring cost-effective commercial facilities on-line
sooner, thereby helping to mitigate the generation of greenhouse gasses.
Michael R. Ladisch, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor and Director Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering Purdue University West Lafayette, IN, USA