My research focuses on investigating physiochemical characteristics of biomass that affect their chemical and biological functions. In particular, I am exploring separation of biomass components (i.e., cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin). My diverse background in biology, chemistry, engineering, and economics allows me to formulate green yet efficient and economical processes using a hybrid system of enzymes and heterogeneous catalysts to achieve three goals: (1) energy goal, to produce low value, high volume fuels from renewables, (2) economic goal, to generate additional revenues from high value, low volume building blocks for specialty chemicals, and (3) environmental goal, to foster green yet efficient processes. Here is a bit of my current research in a nutshell.
Overcoming lignocellulosic biomass recalcitrance followed by enzymatic hydrolysis of reactive polymeric carbohydrates (i.e., cost-efficient liberation of fermentable sugars from biomass) is perhaps the most challenging technical and economic barrier to biorefinery success. Pretreatment is among the most costly steps in biochemical conversion of biomass, accounting for up to 40% of the total processing cost. Also, it affects the costs of other operations including size reduction prior to pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation after pretreatment. Pretreatment can also strongly influence downstream costs involving detoxification if inhibitors are generated, enzymatic hydrolysis rate and enzyme loading, mixing power, product concentration, product purification, power generation, waste treatment demands, and other process variables.
Biomass are characterized pre-/post-pretreatment by enzymatic hydrolysis,substrate accessibility assay, scanning electron microscopy,X-ray diffraction (XRD), cross polarization/magic angle spinning (CP/MAS) 13C nuclear magnetic resonance(NMR), and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR).