Arthur Ragauskas

Sweetening the Deal

By David Goddard.

UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Biorefining Arthur Ragauskas (CBE) is part of a team whose research is aimed at improving the usefulness of biomasses by increasing the yield of sugars they produce, which can then be converted into fuel.

A crucial part of the biorefining process are substances known as deep eutectic solvents, which help break down lignin in the cellular walls of plants. Breaking down those barriers helps ease the conversion of given plants into a source for biofuels.

For Ragauskas and his team, that source plant was Arabidopsis thaliana, a prolific plant from the same family as cabbage and mustard. When they applied their solvents to the plants, they got a two-fold yield in sugars, a highly promising development for the future of biofuels.

By pretreating the biomass before processing it, the team improved output and did so at much lower temperatures than normal, with the added benefit of creating the solvent from the source lignin itself.

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