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Speaker Abstract

Steps towards commercialization of expansins for biofuel production

Tim Hurley
Expansyn Technologies, Inc.
State College, PA

Fuels derived from cellulosic biomass offer an alternative to conventional energy sources that supports national economic growth, national energy security and environmental goals. Cellulosic biomass is an attractive energy feedstock because supplies are abundant domestically and globally. Current methods to break down biomass into simple sugars and convert them into ethanol are inefficient and constitute the core barrier to producing ethanol at volumes and costs competitive with gasoline. Recent developments at Penn State University indicate that a class of plant proteins, named expansins, may improve the performance of enzymes used in the deconstruction of cellulosic biomass. Preliminary experimentation indicates that certain expansin proteins act synergistically with cellulase in the hydrolysis of crystalline cellulose. In order to assess the commercial potential for expansins, a new company, Expansyn Technologies, Inc., has been formed. The company has initiated a focused development program aimed producing gram-scale levels of a specific expansin protein, recombinant Zea m3 (ZM3), and comprehensive testing of the recombinant protein for cellulase synergism with various forms of cellulase and cellulosic biomass. This technology has the potential to dramatically improve the digestibility of cellulosic feedstocks thereby enabling commercial-scale production and use of an alternative fuel from renewable resources while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.