BIOFUELS

A team effort to get more out of lignin

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Science  14 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6211, pp. 823-824
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6211.823-f

You've probably heard about cellulosic biofuels—fuels manufactured from the sugars trapped in plants' cellulose, which is largely inedible (for humans anyway). As commercial efforts in this arena get off the ground, chemists are rushing to solve a related problem: how to transform and market the woody lignin material that comes along with the cellulose. Linger et al. demonstrate the advantages of combining chemical and microbial protocols. First, treatment with base breaks the lignin down into a diverse set of molecules. Then Pseudomonas putida bacteria are put to work channeling these molecules into a more uniform product stream of (poly)-hydroxyalkanoates. After that, synthetic chemistry transforms this stream into plastics, liquid fuels, and commodity compounds.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1410657111 (2014).

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