U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office

Biochemical Conversion

This area focuses on the research, development and demonstration of biological processes that convert biomass to biofuels, chemicals, and power.

  • Biochemical processes also complement thermochemical conversion by providing residual materials for further processing.

  • Biochemical conversion will advance in the future by enhancing fuel yields in integrated biorefineries which combine conversion types with heat and power efficiencies to produce fuel and products.

Lignocellulose (mainly lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose), is the primary component of plant residues, woody materials and grasses. The cell wall structure of this plant matter is partially comprised of long chains sugars (carbohydrates), which can be converted to biofuels. Biochemical conversion breaks down the cell wall through the introduction of enzymes or acid in order to extract the sugars which are then converted to biofuels using microorganisms. Due to the complex structure of the cell wall it is more difficult to break down into sugars, making this material more expensive to convert to biofuels.

A key to developing cost-competitive cellulosic biofuels is reducing the processing and capital cost and improving the efficiency of separating and converting cellulosic biomass into fermentable sugars. Current R&D focuses on high-yield feedstocks, more efficient enzymes, and more robust microorganisms to advance biochemical conversion processes.

For more information on biochemical conversion, see the fact sheet: Biochemical Conversion: Using Hydrolysis, Fermentation, and Catalysis to Make Fuels and Chemicals.