NREL developed an approach using pyrolysis, analyzing the vapor from the samples produced by heat in the absence of oxygen, which is called high-throughput analysis pyrolysis, or HTAP. Pyrolysis destroys the sample, but the sample is tiny four milligrams for the pyrolysis approach versus 10 grams for the traditional approach.
Difference in Signal Intensity Identifies Gene Manipulations
The lignin in a plant is crucial for its development and insect resistance, but it can stand in the way of enzymes that want to get at the sugars locked up in the carbohydrates. It's the deconstruction of the raw sugars that produces the sugars the biofuels industry finds valuable.
Lignin is a big molecule. Heating it up in the absence of oxygen pyrolysis breaks it down into smaller fragments that can be read by a molecular beam mass spectrometer.
The ratios of lignin to carbohydrate components, together with the intensity of the lignin peaks, can tell a scientist how easily a plant will give up its sugars.
HTAP integrates a molecular beam mass spectrometer with the pyrolysis unit to quickly determine chemical signatures (phenotypes) on small amounts of biomass samples that can be used for, among other things, identifying the genes controlling the chemical makeup.
Samples drop into the oven, where the pyrolysis creates a vapor that is read by the mass spectrometer a chemical fingerprint. The auto-sampler quickly moves the samples into place and back out again, so the measurements can be taken every couple of minutes or so. Combining the HTAP chemical phenotypes with information such as genetic markers can signal there is a gene nearby that controls those chemical phenotypes for better or worse.
HTAP can potentially reduce the amount of energy needed for ethanol production, said NREL's Mark Davis, princ
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory