Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ORNL neutrons, simulations reveal details of bioenergy barrier

16.06.2011
A first of its kind combination of experiment and simulation at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is providing a close-up look at the molecule that complicates next-generation biofuels.

Lignin, a major component of plant cell walls, aggregates to form clumps, which cause problems during the production of cellulosic ethanol. The exact shape and structure of the aggregates, however, have remained largely unknown.

A team led by ORNL's Jeremy Smith revealed the surface structure of lignin aggregates down to 1 angstrom—the equivalent of a 10 billionth of a meter or smaller than the width of a carbon atom. The team's findings were published in Physical Review E.

"We've combined neutron scattering experiments with large-scale simulations on ORNL's main supercomputer to reveal that pretreated softwood lignin aggregates are characterized by a highly folded surface," said Smith, who directs ORNL's Center for Molecular Biophysics and holds a Governor's Chair at University of Tennessee.

Lignin clumps can inhibit the conversion of biofuel feedstocks—for example, switchgrass—into ethanol, a renewable substitute for gasoline. When enzymes are used to release plant sugars necessary for ethanol production, the lignin aggregates bind to the enzymes and reduce the efficiency of the conversion.

Lignin's highly folded surface creates more opportunities to capture the passing enzymes than a smooth surface would. An improved understanding of the lignin aggregates will aid scientists in efforts to design a more effective pretreatment process, which in turn could lower the cost of biofuels.

"Nature has evolved a very sophisticated mechanism to protect plants against enzymatic attack," said ORNL team member Loukas Petridis. "We're trying to understand the physical basis of biomass recalcitrance—resistance of the plants to enzymatic degradation."

The complementary techniques of simulation on ORNL's Jaguar supercomputer and neutron scattering at the lab's High Flux Isotope Reactor enabled Smith's team to resolve lignin's structure at scales ranging from 1 to 1,000 angstroms. Smith's project is the first to combine the two methods in biofuel research. "This work illustrates how state-of-the-art neutron scattering and high-performance supercomputing can be integrated to reveal structures of importance to the energy biosciences," Smith said.

The research was supported by DOE's Office of Science and used the resources of the Leadership Computing Facility at ORNL under a DOE INCITE award. Team members include ORNL's Sai Venkatesh Pingali, Volker Urban, William Heller, Hugh O'Neill and Marcus Foston and Arthur Ragauskas from Georgia Institute of Technology.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

NOTE TO EDITORS: You may read other press releases from Oak Ridge National Laboratory or learn more about the lab at http://www.ornl.gov/news. Additional information about ORNL is available at the sites below:

Twitter - http://twitter.com/oakridgelabnews

RSS Feeds - http://www.ornl.gov/ornlhome/rss_feeds.shtml

Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/oakridgelab

YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/user/OakRidgeNationalLab

LinkedIn - http://www.linkedin.com/companies/oak-ridge-national-laboratory

Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/Oak.Ridge.National.Laboratory

Morgan McCorkle | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Chips, light and coding moves the front line in beating bacteria
16.08.2018 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

nachricht Protein droplets keep neurons at the ready and immune system in balance
16.08.2018 | Howard Hughes Medical Institute

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Diving robots find Antarctic seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide in winter

16.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Protein droplets keep neurons at the ready and immune system in balance

16.08.2018 | Life Sciences

3D inks that can be erased selectively

16.08.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>