Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and environmental studies, has received a $193,809 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a project called “Imaging Lignin Degradation.” Taylor will collaborate with colleagues at Penn State University and the University of Tennessee.
Taylor hopes to use fluorescence imaging and isotope trace experiments to develop probes for finding organisms that can break down lignin. She plans to test complex biological samples.
“Think going to the forest and bringing home a bucket of dirt containing small insects and lots of microorganisms and then figuring out which ones can break down lignin. This is related to my own work, where I hope to help turn lignin into a viable carbon source for biofuel production,” Taylor explains.
Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, is exploring lignin as a possible carbon source of biofuel. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)
In this issue, we ask 5 Questions to. . . Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the 35th Peter A. Leermakers’ Committee.
Q. How did you get involved in biofuel research?
A.There seemed to be a compelling need for more scientists to look for alternatives to biofuel carbon sources beyond the ones that have already been researched, corn being a common, but problematic one.
Q. Can you explain what lignin is?
A. Lignin is the second most abundant polymer on the planet (the most abundant polymer is cellulose). Lignin is interwoven into trees, along with cellulose and hemicellulose, two sugar polymers. Lignin provides the structural rigidity.
Q. Why are you exploring lignin as a possible carbon source of biofuel?
A. more than 50 millions tons of lignin are produced each year. It is an abundant waste product of both the biofuel and paper industries. Lignin is also found in municipal waste. My hope is to take the lignin and develop a means for recycling it into a biofuel
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