Wen Wins NSF Award for Syngas Fermentation

Zhiyou Wen, a Bioeconomy Institute affiliate, is part of a team that has won a grant to study the fermentation of synthesis gases (called syngas) produced from biomass. Wen, a professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, is receiving $150,000 from the National Science Foundation. This research is a partnership with Washington University, St. Louis.

“This is a big milestone in the syngas fermentation research I started over three years ago,” Wen said. Robert C. Brown, director of the BEI, added, “Syngas fermentation is part of the Hybrid Processing Signature Program established at the BEI several years ago. I am pleased to see Professor Wen’s pioneering work in this field acknowledged by the NSF.”

Wen’s team will study the gasification of inexpensive lignocellulosic biomass (such as corn stover or switchgrass) and the use of the resulting products, known as syngas, as a feedstock for producing biofuels. The syngas, which consists mostly of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, can be fermented into fuels such as ethanol.

The researchers will study the limitations of transporting the gases into the microbes that perform the fermentation. And, they will examine enzymes in microbes that limit the conversation process. Ultimately, this project will produce guidelines for developing other gas-to-liquid biorefineries.

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