Beyond Ethanol: Development of Advanced Biofuels (Blake A. Simmons, JBEI)


“Beyond Ethanol: Development of Advanced Biofuels at the Joint

BioEnergy Institute”

Blake A. Simmons, Ph.D.

Vice-President, Deconstruction Division, the Joint BioEnergy Institute


Today, carbon-rich fossil fuels, primarily oil, coal and natural gas, provide 85% of the energy consumed in the United States. Fossil fuel use increases CO2 emissions, increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases and raising the risk of global warming. The high energy content of liquid hydrocarbon fuels makes them the preferred energy source for all modes of transportation. In the US alone, transportation consumes around 13.8 million barrels of oil per day and generates over 0.5 gigatons of carbon per year. This has spurred research into alternative, non-fossil energy sources.

Among the options (nuclear, concentrated solar thermal, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, solar and biomass), only biomass has the potential to provide a high-energy-content transportation fuel. Biomass is a renewable resource that is potentially carbon-neutral.Plant-derived biomass contains cellulose, which is more difficult to convert to sugars. The development of cost-effective and energy-efficient processes to transform cellulose in biomass into fuels is hampered by significant roadblocks, including the lack of specifically developed energy crops, the difficulty in separating biomass components, low activity of enzymes used to deconstruct biomass, and the inhibitory effect of fuels and processing byproducts on organisms responsible for producing fuels from biomass monomers.

The simplest approach to overcoming the recalcitrance of biomass relies on pretreatment by mechanical or chemical methods. Pretreatment aims to decrease the crystallinity of cellulose and increase the accessibility of the biomass for subsequent hydrolysis. Biomass pretreatment by dilute acid hydrolyzes the hemicellulose component, whereas treatment with alkali removes part of the lignin. These approaches, however, are not economically optimal.

Thus, the major objectives of JBEI’s Deconstruction Division that will be discussed are: (1) to improve pretreatment methods with broad applicability to a range of feedstocks, with a particular focus on ionic liquid pretreatment; (2) to explore new sources of lignocellulolytic enzymes from natural environments, relying on high-throughput protein production and directed evolution using on-chip technologies; (3) to examine microbial communities for new sources of cellulolytic and lignolytic enzymes; and (4) to develop lignin models and ligninase assays that enable the creation of modified ligninases for enhanced degradation and conversion of modified lignin.

Speaker Background

Dr. Simmons joined Sandia National Laboratories in 2001 as a Senior Member of the Technical Staff, serving as a member of the Materials Chemistry Department. He participated on and led a variety of projects, including the development of cleavable surfactants, enzyme engineering for biofuel cells, microfluidics, and the synthesis of silicate nanomaterials. He was promoted to Manager of the Energy Systems Department in 2006. The primary focus of the department was the development of novel materials-based solutions to meet the nation’s growing energy demands. In 2007, he was one of the principal co-investigators of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI,, a $134M DOE funded project tasked with the development and realization of next-generation biofuels produced from non-food crops. He is currently serving as the Vice-President of the Deconstruction Division at JBEI, where he leads a team of 41 researchers working on advanced methods of liberating fermentable sugars and lignin from lignocellulosic biomass. He is also the Senior Manager of Biofuels and Biomaterials Science and Technology at Sandia. He has over 150 publications, book chapters, and patents. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the KQED televised

science program Quest.


Tuesday, March 25


Michael's Restaurant at Shoreline Park

Mountain View, CA





6 PM social hour

7 PM dinner

8 PM lecture


Employed/postdoc Student/unemployed/retired
Early Registration - Up to 7 days in advance of deadline $30 $15
Registration - Up to deadline $35 $20
After deadline/walk-in (Availability NOT guaranteed) $40 $25


Lecture-only is free.



We accept cash or checks at the door, or online payment via credit card. No-shows are responsible for full payment of registration fee.


Please register on the web page or contact:

David Robinson



Deadline for registration:

11:59PM, Monday, March 17 for early registration discount

5PM, Monday, March 24 for registration (or until venue has reached capacity.)

Dinner Selection:

Seafood - Broiled Salmon with lemon beurre blanc

Chicken/Beef - Chicken Marsala

Vegetarian - Eggplant Parmagiana

You should receive confirmation of your registration; if not, please contact us again.

We are sorry but registration for this event is now closed.

Please contact us if you would like to know if spaces are still available.