Department of Energy's Blake Simmons Makes Fuel Out Of Plants

Investors, researchers, and executives are discovering new ways to make and use biofuels.

Blake Simmons | Photo by Toby Burditt
Photo by Toby Burditt

Blake Simmons
VP for Deconstruction / Joint Bioenergy Institute
Emeryville, California

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."

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