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Dartmouth Engineering Professor to Lead $1.2M DOE Biofuels Grant

Sep 08, 2021   |   by Julie Bonette

Dartmouth Engineering Professor Daniel Olson will lead new research funded by a $1.2 million, three-year grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to investigate the use of biomass to produce next-generation fuels and chemicals.

The researchers' goal is to use C. thermocellum, a type of bacteria that is a promising candidate for cellulosic biofuel production, to better understand similar organisms and their ability to be used as a platform for production of fuels and chemicals.

"Biofuels made from cellulose are one of the few options available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the heavy-duty transportation sector, which includes long-haul trucking, ocean shipping, and aviation. Bacteria that natively consume cellulose are good candidates for producing cellulosic biofuels, but in many cases, their metabolism is poorly understood."

Professor Daniel Olson, PI

Olson Workflow

Individual enzymes are cloned on replicating plasmids in C. thermocellum and purified with his-tags. Kinetic parameters are determined by enzyme assays where consumption or production of one metabolite (usually NAD(P)(H)) is measured continuously. For cell lysates, various substrates are gradually fed into the system, metabolite concentrations are measured at discrete time points using HPLC and LC/MS to measure over 40 metabolites.

The grant, "Cell-free systems biology of an atypical glycolytic pathway," will also involve researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the University of Wisconsin.

"To better understand metabolism in these organisms, we are combining a relatively old-fashioned technique of enzyme assays with robotics, modern computer modeling, and advanced analytical chemistry techniques," said Olson.

The funding is part of $45.5 million the Department of Energy recently awarded to better understand and harness nature's biological processes to produce clean biofuels and bioproducts, helping to enhance America's energy security and build its clean energy economy, according to the organization.

"Biofuels that can power planes and ships, and bioproducts made from renewable resources will play a critical role in decarbonizing our economy—and today's awardees will help us understand, predict, and even design them at the cellular level, so that we can unlock their full potential," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a DOE article about the awards. "Led by the unparalleled scientific capabilities at DOE's National Labs and America's world-leading research universities, these projects will help us develop low-carbon products that drive economic growth while building a more sustainable world for our children and grandchildren."

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