By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
First published last week, on November 25, 2019, the article titled “Consolidated Production of Coniferol and Other High-Value Aromatic Alcohols Directly from Lignocellulosic Biomass” has gained media attention across the globe. Given the finite geological oil reserves, the competition to identify alternative biobased and biorefinery processes continues to grow. According to the article, the aim in identifying such products is not only to find alternatives, but most importantly to “overcome significant costs and productivity barriers.” In the aforementioned article, published in the Green Chemistry Journal, scientists write about a novel technique using the biocatalytic production of coniferol (a versatile chemical block) directly from lignocellulosic biomass. The process to do so involves a biocatalytic treatment of lignocellulose, which releases and converts ferulic acid with feruloyl esterase (XynZ), carboxylic acid reductase (CAR), and aldo-keto reductase (AKR). This catalytic reaction achieves the equivalent release of ferulic acid from lignocellulose compared to alkaline hydrolysis, also displaying efficient conversion of ferulic acid to coniferol. Consolidating a biodegradation-biotransformation strategy for the production of high value fine chemicals from waste plant biomass, this novel process offers a potential to minimize environmental waste and add value to agro-industrial residues. A number of grants, including from the São Paulo Research Foundation and David Phillips Fellowship, supported the study outlined in the journal article. Grants of these types continue to arise as the need to address resource efficiency and, therefore, biobased chemical production has become the focus of various government agencies in many countries. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for example, often provides scientist from all backgrounds similar opportunities.