Office of Research Administration

UMSL Researcher Working on Third-Generation Biofuels


There is a large demand to produce energy in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The US is dependent on foreign oil. With 50 percent of oil coming from overseas there is a growing need for domestic energy production to support our economy and environment. Currently hydroelectric, wind and solar energy sources are being developed, but these sustainable energy sources do not covert into energy-dense liquid fuels that are compatible with current distribution and consumption systems. Because of this, scientists are focusing on biofuel energy systems as sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

First-generation biofuels (made from plant materials such as sugar, starch, or vegetable oil) can be converted in to liquid fuels; however, they have negative impacts on the environment. Even though such biofuels are made from a renewable source -- plant material, production of such biofuels requires significant energy input and produces carbon dioxide in the process.

Second-generation biofuel systems have shown increased fuel production efficiencies. They should require less land, fertilizers and pesticides for production, and they would not directly compete with food production. However, there are also uncertainties about their potential to provide enough transport fuel due to the logistical challenge of transporting biomass material to large production facilities.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, a consortium of researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC), Michigan State University, Washington State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the New Mexico Consortium established the Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems (CABS) at the Danforth Center to create a third-generation biofuel system with the potential to yield three- to five-times more recoverable energy than was possible before without damaging the environment or economy. The five-year, $15 million award is the largest competitive award DDPSC has received to date.

With a $232,640 subaward from the DDPSC under the DOE grant, Dr. Xuemin “Sam” Wang, E. Desmond Lee and Family Fund Professor Endowed, Biology at UMSL and Principal Investigator at the DDPSC, will work on three areas: energy and carbon partitioning, novel product development, and computational and enabling technologies. His focus will be on energy and carbon partitioning using camelina, an oilseed crop with a much shorter maturity time than other biofuel crops, to research what limits plants oil production.

This work follows on Dr. Wang's previous discovery regarding a method to increase the oil production in plants such as soybeans and others. That discovery is patent pending and has been optioned to a large seed company for validation testing and possible commercialization.

WIth Dr. Wang's research and his collaboration with an integrated team of world-class experts, biofuel production has the potential to become significantly less costly, more efficient and better for the environment.