Bioenergy & Biofuels from Lignin-Cellulosic Feedstocks

Lignin-Cellulosic Biomass Conversion

Cornell Engineering  faculty is collaborating with faculty in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on research related to utilizing a range of lignin-cellulosic biomass feedstocks.   Work includes biological and biochemical as well as thermochemical research to convert and upgrade feedstocks to biofuels and bioproducts.  A key reason for Cornell’s successes in the biomass conversion area is having access to state-of-the-art facilities like the Biomass Conversion Laboratory, the Experimental Research Station, Cornell Nanoscale Facility, and the Biofuels Research Laboratory a broad array of basic and applied research projects through the participation of and funding from 16 Cornell professors from different disciplines. 

Examples of research include  (1) assessing physical and chemical transformation of high solids content lignin-cellulosic feedstocks by bi-phasic hydrothermal pretreatment (Jeff Tester and Larry Walker); 2) the development of novel enzymatic processes for lignin utilization based on nano-magnetic particles technology  Emmanuel Giannelis and Larry Walker); 3) identification of novel plant cell-wall degrading enzymes from the world of plant pathogenic fungi (Donna Gibson, USDA; Marshall Hayes and Gary Bergstrom); 4) The deployment of scanning fluorescent and total internal reflective fluorescent microscopy (TIRFM) to elucidating cell-wall-degrading enzymes transport, binding and reaction mechanisms with in micro- and nano-scale pore structure of cellulosic material – a collaboration with Harold Craighead in Applied and Engineering Physics  and Jose Moran-Mirabal, McMaster University.  and 5) the development and application of yeast metabolic reconstructions for understanding and mitigating environmental stress such as ethanol inhibition or to drive for carbon to lipids and triacylglycerol (TAG)  for biodiesel development (Susan Henry and Larry  Walker).  Further details about the BRL activities and operation can be found at

Lars Angenent is  interested in converting organic wastes with undefined mixed cultures, or defined mixed cultures (when necessary) to generate specific products, such as energy carriers. Pretreatment of the waste(water) may be necessary to increase the conversion rates, and therefore he is also interested in physical/chemical (e.g., dilute acid method), thermochemical (e.g., slow pyrolysis), and biological pretreatment steps. In regards to the biological bioprocessing steps in a biorefinery concept, he works on anaerobic digestion and gasification, anaerobic fermentation, bioelectrochemical systems, syngas fermentation, and ABE fermentation. 

 In the thermochemical area, a number of faculty in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering working on assessing energy conversion and its environmental impacts.  For example, Elizabeth Fisher and Fred Gouldin are working pyrolysis of lignin- cellulosic feedstocks to biochars and cleaner combustion processes for solid fuels, Max Zhang  is examining methods for reducing and controlling particulate and gaseous emissions from combustion and Steve Pope and Tom Avedisian are developing cleaner and more efficient liquid droplet combustion systems .  In Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering,  the Tester group is focused on hydrothermal gasification and liquefaction processes of woody feedstocks and agriculture wastes, including manures and food processing wastes.

In addition to this experimental work, The Walker and Tester groups are developing and testing input/output and life cycle assessment models to generate material and energy flows for evaluating performance and sustainability metrics and techno-economic analysis of bio-based industries.

Faculty --  Lindsay AndersonLars Angenent , Brad AntonThomas Avedisian, Gary Bergstrom, Harold Craighead, Elizabeth Fisher, Emmanuel Gianellis, Fred Gouldin, Susan Henry, Johannes LehmannPerrine PepiotSteve Pope, Jeff Tester, Larry Walker, David Willson, Max Zhang