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by Dawit Beyene, PhD candidate at the University of Alberta

When I was a kid, I used to follow a science and technology show on TV. It portrayed the adverse effects of human activities –  mostly energy related – on the environment. I remember getting passionately upset and unable to rationalize why we continued using such technologies. Yet I found comfort and hope in the alternative green technologies the TV show was promoting. The fascination and enthousiasm in the quest for sustainable technologies was instilled in my mind at this stage. During my Masters of Science studies, I became fascinated by the potential of biological conversion of waste-to-value added products. For my thesis research, I studied biological pre-treatment of bagasse for ethanol production. I am now currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Alberta and continue working on biofuels with close links with industry.

Dr Bressler’s research group working on bioethanol and CNC project

Our current project focuses on co-production of cellulose nanocrystals in the bioethanol industry. Cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) have desirable properties for application in construction, automotive and bio-plastic industries. The market for these materials is promising and on the rise in the near future. With co-production of high-value products such as nanocrystals, the ethanol industry will overcome the high production costs of its process technologies. We are using wood pulp as a raw material, which helps stimulate the the forestry industry into areas beyond paper based products, which are in low demand.

Our novel technology using enzymes can improve the efficiency of the chemical process and reduce waste generated during CNC production. This will promote the development and commercialization of innovative, sustainable and environmentally friendly CNC-based materials.

I am very excited about the prospective impacts of our current project, even though we are at an early stage. I would definitely like to continue my engagement in projects related to improving process technologies in my future career.

Cellulose nanocrystal in liquid suspension

We are very grateful to BioFuelNet for providing us with funding and support. Through this project, we were able to strengthen our collaborations with industrial partners Novozymes, Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC) and link with Biorefining conversions network (BCN) and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF). BioFuelNet also awarded me with a travel grant to attend and communicate the progress of our project at the Advanced Biofuels Symposium. The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for me to familiarize with current trends in the cellulosic ethanol industry. I was able to communicate and exchange ideas with participants and gained some valuable insights for our project.

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