New enzymes demonstrate great potential for biomass breakdown

Researchers from DTU and the French Institute for Research in Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) in Marseille have developed a new class of enzymes that can help accelerate the process of breaking down biomass. This is an important step in the transition to a sustainable bioeconomy where biomass can be converted to fuel and value-added goods.

Biomass is a renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. Examples are scrap lumber, forest debris, certain crips, manure and some types of waste residues. Today biomass is the most dominant source of renewable energy in Denmark but the biomass composition has changed throughout the years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the use of solid biomass was largely made up of straw, biodegradable waste and firewood, but since 2000 the use of wood pellets and wood chips has increased significantly.

Most of the large-scale combined heat and power plants in Denmark have now converted from fossil fuels to woody biomass. While biomass is a renewable energy source, its climate impact depends on the type of biomass being used. It is therefore crucial that the efficiency in biomass breakdown continuously improves and at the same time, keeps fuel emissions to a minimum and create more value out of biomass from wood, agricultural production, fisheries and the food industry.

Extracting more value from biomass
The discovery of AA7 enzymes was published in the acclaimed journal Nature Communications, where researchers demonstrated that combining the newly found enzyme with other enzymes can effectively target crystalline biomass regions, which are a bottleneck in biotechnological procedures for biomass extraction.

“The newly discovered enzymes are simple and efficient partners to key enzymes that accelerate breakdown of the toughest regions in biomass. Thus, they have great potential in commercial enzyme cocktails for biomass conversion to value-added products". says Maher Abou Hachem, Professor MSO at DTU Bioengineering. The enzymes’ key benefit is that they have the potential to increase the economic feasibility of biotechnological procedures for biomass utilisation.

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