From: DOE / Sandia National Laboratories
Published May 5, 2017 11:29 AM

Trash into treasure: Sandia could help biofuel pay for itself with goods made from waste

A recent discovery by Sandia National Laboratories researchers may unlock the potential of biofuel waste — and ultimately make biofuels competitive with petroleum.

Fuel made from plants is much more expensive than petroleum, but one way to decrease the cost would be to sell products made from lignin, the plant waste left over from biofuel production.

Lignin typically is either burned to produce electricity or left unused in piles because no one has yet determined how to convert it into useful products, such as renewable plastics, fabrics, nylon and adhesives. The electricity isn’t even available to the general public; it’s only used by companies that create large amounts of lignin, like pulp and paper manufacturers. Now Sandia scientists, working with researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, have decoded the structure and behavior of LigM, an enzyme that breaks down molecules derived from lignin.

The group’s work on LigM appears in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The enzyme has little in common with other, better understood proteins, which previously made it impossible for scientists to guess how it functions. This paper marks the first time anyone has solved the structure of LigM, opening a path toward new molecules and new, marketable products.

Read more at DOE / Sandia National Laboratories

Image: Sandia National Laboratories researchers Matthew Mills, left, and Ken Sale, center, look on as researcher Amanda Kohler points toward a model of LigM, an enzyme whose structure they have solved. (Photo by Dino Vournas

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