A new round of government funding will help a Corvallis company develop a promising new process for accelerating biofuel production.

Trillium FiberFuels and its research partners at Oregon State University have been awarded a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to pursue their work on manganese peroxidase, an enzyme that helps break down plant fibers.

OSU researchers Christine Kelly and Curtis Lajoie have developed a method for producing manganese peroxidase in commercial quantities. That could make ethanol production more efficient by speeding the conversion of grass straw or other kinds of biomass into alcohol, and Trillium hopes to market the enzyme to biofuel manufacturers.

“We’re really hoping we can take what they’ve started and develop it into a commercial product,” Trillium President Chris Beatty said.

Manganese peroxidase occurs naturally in small amounts in white-rot fungi. In the laboratory, Kelly and Lajoie spliced the enzyme-producing gene from the fungi onto a fast-growing yeast.

“We’re making a tool to use biomass better,” Beatty said.

It’s also possible the company could get a secondary benefit from the research.

Like white-rot fungi, manganese peroxidase works by breaking down lignin, a sort of natural glue that binds plant fibers together. Lignin shows promise as an ingredient in commercial adhesives that could replace toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde in making plywood and other laminated wood products.

Beatty is hoping the enzyme will create useful lignin byproducts that can be captured in the ethanol production process.

“If it cuts up the lignin in constructive sorts of ways,” he said, “we may be able to use those components in other products.”

The $150,000 small business technology transfer grant runs through the end of the year. If the enzyme project goes well, Trillium and its OSU research partners could qualify for a larger round of federal funding next year.

Contact Bennett Hall at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

 

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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