Seminar | Lignin valorization via depolymerization, biological funneling, and chemical catalysis

[PHOTO]Gregg T. BeckhamDr. Gregg T. Beckham
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Dec. 16, 2014, 11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
1306 Elings Hall, Iowa State University
Lunch provided
RSVP to Jan Meyer by Dec. 11:; 515-294-3759

The economic viability of biomass conversion to transportation fuels and renewable chemicals hinges on the ability to efficiently break down plant cell walls to their constituent monomers and then upgrade the resulting monomers to value-added molecules. This talk will focus on lignin, which a heterogeneous aromatic polymer found in terrestrial plant cell walls for pathogen defense, structure, and water transport. Lignin is typically not converted to value-added molecules in biorefineries, but is rather slated for heat and power. Indeed, the adage in the biofuels industry is that one “can make anything from lignin except money”. The primary reasons for this technical barrier stem from (1) the need to effectively breakdown the recalcitrant lignin polymer into low molecular-weight aromatic molecules and (2) the ability to deal with the resulting heterogeneity of the depolymerized stream. Recent efforts in lignin depolymerization in the context of the lignocellulosic biorefinery and a recently proposed biological funneling and chemical catalysis approach that enables the ability to overcome these intrinsic problems with lignin will be reviewed. Taken together, this work may eventually offer a viable approach for cost effective upgrading of lignin to fuels and chemicals.

Gregg T. Beckham received his PhD and MSCEP in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007. He also received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma State University 2002. He worked as a Senior Lecturer and Station Director for the David H. Koch School of Chemical Engineering Practice at MIT in 2004-2005 and again in 2007. In 2008, he began doing research in the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He currently works with an interdisciplinary research team of biologists, chemists, and engineers on multiple aspects of biochemical and thermochemical conversion of biomass to fuels, chemicals, and materials including cellulase enzyme improvements, biomass pretreatment, sugar conversion to fuels and chemicals, and lignin valorization.


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