A recent review article [Simmons BA, Loque D, Blanch HW: Next-generation biomass feedstocks for biofuel production. Genome Biol 2008, 9:242] published in Genome Biology highlights the use of lignocellulosic biomass to produce second generation biofuels. Simmons, Loque and Blanch describe how hybrid poplar, eucalyptus, loblolly pine, willow and silver maple could be grown throughout the United States on idle farm land with no changes to farm practices. They estimate that 247 billion liters of biofuels per year could be produced in this way.
In the article they also focus on the biological advances being made into producing dedicated energy crops with enhanced characteristics. Lignocellulosic plants are notoriously difficult to convert into fermentable sugars due to the presence of lignin in cell walls. However, research into microbes that can remove lignin from crops, and the modification of lignin biosynthesis within the plants themselves, suggest that this recalcitrance to conversion could be diminished. Research into crops engineered to ‘reach high energy densities over a short time with minimal fertilization and water consumptions’, or break down cellulose to glucose, are also discussed in the review.
The article is significant at a time when governments around the world are looking for ways to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels and increase their biofuel production because of concerns over the impact fossil fuel have on global warming, as well as wanting to decrease their dependence on imported fuels.
Andrea Melendez, Assistant Journal Development Editor