Session 2-01: Solving the biomass recalcitrance challenge: Impacts go beyond 2012

The man giving this talk began by talking about his projections for the future.  The near term (3 yrs) is industry driven, with bioethanol pilot plants, technologic economic analysis, and performance testing.  3-10 yrs from now will be technology driven, with alternative S & T and alternative liquid fuels.  10yrs+ will consist of deep understanding, with systems biology, structural biology, enzyme engineering, biomass ultrastructure, and pretreatment chemistry.  The guy defined biomass recalcitrance as the inherent tendency of the plant cell wall structure and chemistry to hinder its breakdown into sugars. But there are problems of access at all levels.  Microfibril matrices make issues, and particle size affects digestibility.  Digestibility increases with decreasing particle size, that smaller particles are more digestible.  The problem with that is that xylan content also decreases.  In this guy’s slides, there was a wonderful kind of ‘duh’ moment for me.  One of the slides said something to the effect of “lignins are reduced in lignin-downregulated alfalfa cells.”

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