Researchers at the University of Limerick (UL) are taking on the challenge to improve the viability of biomass processing.

The UL team is part of a consortium involved in the €4m project ‘CellulosomePlus’ involving nine private and public-sector partners.

Dr Damien Thompson, Department of Physics, leads the UL research team involved in this project.  He explained: “Currently half of the world’s renewable energy is sourced from biomass. By 2030 it is projected that €20 billion will be invested globally in biomass as a large component of green energy solutions. However, there is a major technical bottleneck for plant biomass processing in the break-down of plant cell walls into fermentable sugars.”

Biomass is abundant, renewable, sustainable and inexpensive. Typical sources are wood, inedible parts of plants or industrial residues, and the organic, biodegradable fraction of municipal solid waste.

As part of a European Union-funded project ‘CellulosomePlus’ the research team at UL is using computer-models of the enzymes in plant biomass to better understand their properties, and are working with the other teams towards the design of enzymes that are better able to break down biomass into fermentable sugars.

Dr Thompson added: “If successful, this solution would provide a huge renewable feedstock of sugars for production of biofuels. The potential for this is huge. Municipal solid waste is abundant in every developed country in the world. The waste generated in Ireland alone every year would fill Croke Park to the top of the stands. Breaking-down this waste into the chemical components that would provide a fuel source would unlock a huge renewable energy source while helping our environment.”

CellulosomePlus is a European Union-funded project involving a public-private consortium of nine partners that includes CSIC in Madrid, the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and the multinational Abengoa Bioenergy.