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A Mont Alto professor investigates plant cells for biomass fuels

7/16/2009 —

A Penn State Mont Alto professor is on the cutting edge of research for the production of ethanol as an alternate energy source for America. Dr. Linghoa Zhong, assistant professor of chemistry, is the co-principal investigator of the new Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Frontier Research Center at Penn State. The DOE is investing $21 million over the next five years to fund research at the Center.

Zhong is working as part of an interdisciplinary team that includes plant and molecular biologists, physicists, material scientists, computational modelers, engineers and chemists. Over the next five years, they will conduct investigations to increase understanding of the physical structure of biopolymers in plant cell walls and improve methods for converting plant biomass into fuel. “The research employs computational methods to understand what happens inside a plant,” says Zhong. “Specifically, how plants make certain kinds of chemicals, cellulose, which can be used for fuel.”

The Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation is one of 46 EFRC centers formed nationwide by the DOE to address fundamental issues in fields ranging from solar energy and electric storage to materials sciences, biofuels and carbon capture and sequestration. It is collaborating with researchers at North Carolina State University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. DOE funding for the Center is being provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

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