The National Science Foundation has awarded a $400,000 award to a University of Arkansas chemistry professor who will explore a barrier blocking biomass from being harvested from perennial plants that could lead to the creation of a renewable energy source.
Feng Wang, an associate professor of physical chemistry at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, has said that the most desirable biofuel is one that is derived from perennial plants, including common weeds and grass, that can grow on minimal land and be harvested repeatedly. Wang added that a solution to the breaking down of cellulose fibrils problem must be attained before biomass can even be considered as a renewable energy source that is economically feasible.
Located within plants, cellulose fibrils are microfibers of inert carbohydrates. An example of their purpose is giving wood its durability. Chemists use a process called pretreatment to isolate the fibrils into individual carbohydrate chains, which allows enzymes to digest them. The process is a lengthy one, but Wang, along with other chemists, are researching ways that can increase its speed.