ISU conference to explore tailoring plants for bioenergy and biobased products

AMES, Iowa -- The Midwest could someday replace the Mideast as the center of energy production if researchers can develop plants that more readily convert their leaves, stalks and other fibers into energy and biobased products.

Lignocellulose -- the fibrous portions of the plant that enable it to stand, extend leaves and protect seeds -- contains much of the plant's energy. However, lignocellulose doesn't easily break down into sugars that can be converted into fuels and products.

Iowa State University's Plant Sciences Institute is launching research to alter lignocellulosic materials to make conversion easier and more cost-effective. The institute is hosting a one-day conference that will bring together experts to explore the possibilities that plant breeding, chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology can bring to the challenge.

"Tailoring Lignocellulosic Feedstocks for Bioenergy and Biobased Products" will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday, May 16, in the Gallery, Memorial Union. The conference is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

The conference will feature discussions on the status of producing bioenergy and biobased products from lignocellulose, and the opportunities for improvement through plant breeding and plant science approaches.

One session will feature Maurice Hladik, director of marketing for Iogen Corporation, Ottawa, Canada. Iogen is the leading biotechnology firm specializing in cellulose-derived

ethanol and the only commercial facility operating in North America. Hladik will present an industry perspective in his talk, "Cellulose Ethanol Is Ready to Go."

Other speakers and topics include:

  • "Biobased Industries, the Vision Revisited" -- Don Johnson, Grain Processing Corporation (retired), Hertford, N.C.
  • "Progress, Challenges and Opportunities for Biological Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass" -- Charles Wyman, Paul E. and Joan H. Queneau Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering Design, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
  • "Composition of Herbaceous Biomass Crops and Potential Influence on Conversion to Bioenergy and Bioproducts" -- Hans-Joachim Jung, U. S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Plant Science Research Unit, St. Paul, Minn.
  • "Breeding Perennial and Annual Grasses for Bioenergy and Biobased Products" -- Ken Vogel, USDA-ARS, Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research Unit, Lincoln, Neb.
  • "Genetic Dissection of Cell Wall Synthesis and Function" -- Chris Somerville, professor of biological sciences, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
  • "Phenylpropanoid Mutants of Arabidopsis: Rewriting the Lignin Biosynthetic Pathway" -- Clint Chapple, professor of biochemistry, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
  • "Biomass Recalcitrance: The Key Hurdle for the Lignocellulosic Biorefinery" -- Mike Himmel, principal scientist, National Renewable Energy Lab, Golden, Colo.

The conference is sponsored by Iowa State's Plant Sciences Institute, College of Agriculture and Center for Crops Utilization Research. For additional information and to register, go to, or call Darren Jarboe, (515) 294-2342.

The Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State University is dedicated to becoming one of the world's leading plant science research institutes. More than 200 faculty from the College of Agriculture, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the College of Engineering conduct research in nine centers of the institute. They seek fundamental knowledge about plant systems to help feed the growing world population, strengthen human health and nutrition, improve crop quality and yield, foster environmental sustainability and expand the uses of plants for biobased products and bioenergy. The Plant Sciences Institute supports the training of students for exciting career opportunities and promotes new technologies to aid in the economic development of agriculture and industry throughout the state. The institute is supported through public and private funding.