"In four minutes, you can look at the spectrum and see that this sample reduces lignin by half because the S to G ratio has changed by a factor of two," Davis said. Meanwhile, the auto-sampler has already put another sample in place and is ready for a third. "That's information that prior to this would take two people two weeks to acquire."
The speed at which HTAP can analyze samples has launched a new niche market for the tiny cups arrayed on trays that accept the samples. "People send us thousands of samples at a time," Davis said. Now, NREL simply sends universities and companies the large trays of cups. The cups are filled with the samples. Glass fiber disks are used to hold the biomass samples in the cups, which are then sent back to NREL. Quickly sending cups and samples back and forth has slashed the cost of one of the most expensive steps in the process: sample preparation.
Tool Can Detect Minute Differences
HTAP has demonstrated extreme powers of discernment. Growers can determine that some of those identical-looking trees are actually a bit different. Using the information that is provided by HTAP, researchers and breeders can determine what genes in the cloned trees are responsible for the advantageous biofuel potential. And biologists then can graft a desirable cell-wall trait onto a new line of trees.
"We've phenotyped tens of thousands of samples so far," Davis said. "The tool provides a detailed comparison of hundreds of samples a day. Any biomass feedstock type being used for serious biofuels production chances are, we've tested it."
|Contact: David Glickson|
DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory