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Biomass For Thermochemical Conversion: Targets And Challenges

Paul Tanger, John L. Field, Courtney E. Jahn, Morgan DeFoort, J. Leach
Published 2013 · Environmental Science, Medicine

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Bioenergy will be one component of a suite of alternatives to fossil fuels. Effective conversion of biomass to energy will require the careful pairing of advanced conversion technologies with biomass feedstocks optimized for the purpose. Lignocellulosic biomass can be converted to useful energy products via two distinct pathways: enzymatic or thermochemical conversion. The thermochemical pathways are reviewed and potential biotechnology or breeding targets to improve feedstocks for pyrolysis, gasification, and combustion are identified. Biomass traits influencing the effectiveness of the thermochemical process (cell wall composition, mineral and moisture content) differ from those important for enzymatic conversion and so properties are discussed in the language of biologists (biochemical analysis) as well as that of engineers (proximate and ultimate analysis). We discuss the genetic control, potential environmental influence, and consequences of modification of these traits. Improving feedstocks for thermochemical conversion can be accomplished by the optimization of lignin levels, and the reduction of ash and moisture content. We suggest that ultimate analysis and associated properties such as H:C, O:C, and heating value might be more amenable than traditional biochemical analysis to the high-throughput necessary for the phenotyping of large plant populations. Expanding our knowledge of these biomass traits will play a critical role in the utilization of biomass for energy production globally, and add to our understanding of how plants tailor their composition with their environment.
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