VP for Deconstruction / Joint Bioenergy Institute
At JBEI, one of the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Research Centers, Simmons collaborates with researchers from other institutions to develop advanced biofuels.
"We're developing biochemical technologies to convert nonfood biomass into drop-in replacements for gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel. We're not looking for a silver bullet—we're looking for a silver shotgun. We're competing with the oil and gas folks, who have had 155 years to perfect their business models and technologies. To succeed, we have to create plants designed for conversion into energy, convert those plants into fermentable and cheap sugars, and convert those sugars into high yields of fuels. We have to process sugar polymers, which are what you target for fermentable sugars, and also lignin, which is the antibiofuel. First we pretreat the biomass to loosen everything up and de-lignify it. Then we add enzymes to the sugar polymers to liberate the fermentable sugars. Those get fed to organisms that have been engineered to produce advanced fuels. Using synthetic biology, we can engineer these organisms to generate fuels you can take straight out of the fermenter and put into your tank."
More Fast Talk: The Fuel Futurists
A version of this article appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.