LSU AgCenter bioprocessing researchers look forward to next steps

(10/14/16) BATON ROUGE, La. – As it reached the end of a five-year grant, the LSU AgCenter gathered participants in the Sustainable Bioproducts Initiative to summarize their work and then look forward to how to apply what they learned to new endeavors.

The meeting was held on Oct. 5 on the LSU campus.

The initiative grew out of a five-year $17.3 million grant to speed up the process for developing biofuels and biochemicals from energycane and sweet sorghum. The funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported research in transforming energycane, a relative of sugarcane, and sweet sorghum into high-value products using existing agricultural practices and processing facilities in Louisiana.

“The bioenergy industry may give Louisiana producers and processors another outlet to make money in addition to growing food crops,” said AgCenter vice chancellor John Russin.

“We’ve already learned that we can generate important biochemicals on marginal land that won’t profitably produce food crops,” Russin said. “The next steps are to refine the processes and create opportunities for growth.”

The project involves a team of university and industry partners led by the LSU AgCenter who are improving the regular production of biomass for economically viable conversion to biofuels and bioenergy using existing refinery infrastructure.

“Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project is using energycane and sweet sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries,” Russin said.

Several AgCenter researchers addressed the future as they explained how the results of their work in the program can be taken further.

Researchers have produced benzene, toluene and xylene from refining energycane syrup, said Franz Ehrenhauser, of the AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute.

“We have a process that works. The next step is to improve and enhance,” Ehrenhauser said. The overall goal is to make the process operate without added chemicals by recovering and using the chemicals already in the feedstock.

The process can be used to continue to convert lignocellulosic syrups into final products, said AgCenter researcher Giovanna Aita.

“We can blend nutrients to produce enhanced lignocellulosic syrups to produce, recover and purify fumaric acid used in paints, polymers and food products,” she said.

“Through our industrial partners, these purified industrial syrups have been catalyzed into chemical feedstock components that are used to produce plastic beverage bottles and jet fuel,” Russin said.

AgCenter forestry researcher Mike Blazier said further work should focus on yield and sustainability through more intensive systems that sustain feedstock production through rotational cropping and bring marginal lands into production.

He is looking at soil health and water quality issues “so we can understand how well these systems sustain.”

Other AgCenter researchers are looking at genetic improvements of energycane and sweet sorghum.

The research includes developing cold-tolerant energycane that can be grown in northern Louisiana where environmental conditions aren’t conducive for sugarcane and drought-tolerant sweet sorghum that can produce profitable crops without irrigation.

“We are not inventing new things but using known information to improve sweet sorghum,” said researcher Prasanta Subudhi with the AgCenter School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences.

Genetic markers are already available, and he will use marker-assisted selection to identify drought-tolerant lines, Subudhi said.

10/14/2016 4:22:23 PM
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