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Capacity Building in Bioenergy

Energy Biosciences Overseas Fellowship” is a re-entry scheme for scientists of Indian origin who are working outside the country in the field of energy biosciences. Over the past few years since 2009, ten awardees with diverse expertise have returned to India and are working with the DBT Bioenergy Centers IISER, IITs and other institutes. Two of these awardees/fellows have been absorbed in host institutes viz; IIT Guwahati and IIT Delhi. Thus, the program has been successful and proven to be the right platform for scientists who wish to return to India and contribute to Nation. Energy Bioscience Chair awarded to a senior scientist is currently working at DBT-IOC Center and leading a team of researchers in the area of biomass characterization.

Recently, Bioenergy Awards for Cutting Edge Research ‘B-ACER’ launched for Ph.D. students and young scientists from India to interact with American peers and helping build long-term R&D linkages. The purpose of this award is to nurture future innovators and thought leaders in biofuel and bioenergy. More than 50 applications received from young scientist and students working in bioenergy related area.

  • Ten post doc fellows attracted back to country under the Energy Bioscience Overseas Fellowships – They are now placed in some of the centres of excellences on bio-energy in the country.
  • Launching the Bioenergy Awards for Cutting Edge Research — India and United States have joined hands to support a fellowship that will allow a group of fellows and interns to pursue cutting edge research in various areas of bio-energy in US institutes of repute. This will help build capacity in clean and environmentally safe energy.
The priority areas under which work is now being nurtured include:
  • Waste to Energy – Proposals have been invited to develop and demonstrate technologies for sustainable utilization of MSW waste for cleaner and pollution free environment as well as generation of the energy from MSW.

At Punjab University four strategies have been successfully used to convert putrescible food waste residues into ethanol at various level of fermentation. The four strategies include i) separate hydrolysis and fermentation (SHF), ii) separate partial hydrolysis and fermentation (SPHF), iii) simultaneous hydrolysis and fermentation (SSF) and iv) consolidated bioprocessing (CBP). The highest ethanol yield was obtained by the process of SSF (33.78 mg/g wet weight) followed by SPHF (32.99 mg/g wet weight), SHF (31.90 mg/g wet weight) and CBP (29.80 mg/g wet weight). More experimentation and optimization is being done to further improve the ethanol yields in 100L fermenter by using different consortia of appropriate hexose and pentose fermenting yeast strains. At Punjab University, four strategies have been successfully used to convert putrescible food waste residues into ethanol at various level of fermentation. The four strategies include i) separate hydrolysis and fermentation (SHF), ii) separate partial hydrolysis and fermentation (SPHF), iii) simultaneous hydrolysis and fermentation (SSF) and iv) consolidated bioprocessing (CBP). The highest ethanol yield was obtained by the process of SSF (33.78 mg/g wet weight) followed by SPHF (32.99 mg/g wet weight), SHF (31.90 mg/g wet weight) and CBP (29.80 mg/g wet weight). More experimentation and optimization is being done to further improve the ethanol yields in 100L fermenter by using different consortia of appropriate hexose and pentose fermenting yeast strains.

The cotton waste from the textile mills were collected pooled together and the highest total sugar was observed of exactly 58%. The amount of glucose released after pretreatment was found to be 127 mg/g in the treated pooled cotton waste. The proper combination of pretreatment and enzymes for a given biomass enables high yields of sugars from both hemicelluloses and cellulose components. Enzymatic hydrolysis of pretreated cotton waste was performed through fungus (Trichoderma reesei) at optimum condition through response surface methodology. The sugar release was higher in treated cotton waste (Chemical followed by enzymatic hydrolysis) and the amount of 62% of free sugar was converted from complex form. The fermentation of the treated cotton wastes was performed using immobilized cells of Zymomonas mobilis. The estimation of the ethanol production was unerringly 0.48 % in 1ml of treated cotton sample.

  • Algal Biofuels–(micro, macro, cyanobacteria, heterotrophic) Algae biofuels may provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels. However, a number of hurdles like strain identification and improvement, both in terms of oil productivity and crop protection, nutrient and resource allocation and use, and the production of co-products to improve the economics of the entire system need to be overcome for optimum utilization of the technology. DBT is working to support research on some of these challenges.
  • IBSD Imphal National Repository of Algae
    IBSD Imphal National Repository of Algae
  • Bio-Hydrogen – Department has recently initiated supporting research projects on production of biohydrogen realizing the potential of biohydrogen as a fuel for future. Promising microbes have been identified to produce biohydrogen from low-cost carbon source. Currently, there is a huge demand for hydrogen and one of the usages is as alternate fuel. Several strategies for the production of hydrogen by fermentation in lab-scale have been found in literature. However, no strategies for industrial-scale productions have been found. In general, the method of hydrogen fermentation is referred to in three main categories.

In one of the DBT, supported project at phototrophic bacteria from wastewaters of South India has been isolated and characterized. Optimization of cultural conditions has been done to improve the production of hydrogen of the most promising phototrophic bacterial strains.

Genetic engineering of Rhodobacter sphaeroides by knocking out the hydrogen reuptake hydrogenase gene is underway.

Hydrogen production through biotechnological route using various carbon sources (food and non-food) is being studied at TERI New Delhi and Motilal Nehru Institute of Technology.

Raceway pond at Gwalpahari TERI
Raceway pond at Gwalpahari TERI

Various bio-wastes for biohydrogen production have been identified and tested fermentation using Bacillus firmus NMBL-03. The process has been optimized using starch as a substrate. However, starch being food /feed source efforts are continued to use cellulosic biomass as a feedstock. With hydrogen production as 2428 mL/L which yielded 2.168 moles H2/mole of glucose.

A microbial based bioprocess developed for hydrogen production by Enterobacter cloacae strain DT-1 from baggase and what straw at TERI New Delhi. Encouraging yields of H2 obtained with acid treated biomass hydrolysate at 30 L fermentation.

  • Bio-butanol – This is being looked as a sustainable and next generation biofuel studies are in progress for production, process optimization, scale up.
  • Gas Fermentation — Microbial conversion of CO2/CO/H2 from effluents to fuels or chemicals is the technology of gas fermentation. The effluents from Power plants, Steel mills, which are released into atmosphere, can be used to convert biologically into alcohols and other chemicals.
  • Life Cycle Assessment Study – LCA methodology can be applied to the renewable energy products and process for assessment of environmental impact of the developmental projects. LCA study can provide more reliable and comprehensive information in selecting sustainable products and processes. Net energy gain (NEG) the difference between total energy output and total energy input is one of the accepted indices for analysing energy efficiency, similarly ratio of total energy output to total energy input (NER) reflects the energy efficiency of the process.

(A) Enzyme and microbial engineering

  • A hypercellulytic fungus, Penicillium funiculosum has been identified for higher hydrolytic efficiency at par with best commercially available cellulase cocktails. Genome of this hypercellulytic fungus sequenced, annotated and molecular tools developed for increased enzyme secretion ability.
  • An ethanologenic engineered strain E. coli SSY10 further engineered to utilize cellobiose present in the hydrolyzate by cloning, expressing and secreting beta-glucosidase.
  • Identified Saccharomyces cerevisiae natural isolate capable of fermenting ethanol with the yield of 0.39 g/g and productivity of 1.6 g/l/h at 40oC.

(B) Algal biofuels

  • High lipid producing seven new green algae isolated and their genetic identification is established.
  • A green microalga Chlamydomonas successfully engineered to enhance neutral lipid with diglyceride acyltransferase-II gene of rapeseed.
  • A marine alga Parachlorella Kessleri-I was engineered for increase in biomass and lipid content via Carbon Concentrating Mechanism (CCM). Magnet based harvesting of the algal species is developed. Mixotrophic growth of algal species was optimized using waste water to generate biomass and reduce the cost of cultivation.

(C) Systems biology

  • The latest genome scale metabolic model of E. coli was analyzed to identify targets for ethanol production from glucose and xylose (primary sugars released from the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass) using FBA-based methods.
  • The ethanol yield from these knockout strains was predicted utilizing advanced FBA-based methods and previously published 13C-MFA data, and compared to previously reported ethanologenic strain from our group.
  • Genome scale model of a gut cellulolytic symbiont Paenibacillus polymyxa ICGEB2008 has been constructed and validated experimentally.