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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Welcome to the Commodity Utilization
Research Unit


Tomorrow's Agricultural Products Today

Mission of the Unit

Principles of biochemistry, molecular biology, chemistry and chemical engineering are applied to: create industrial adsorbents, soil amendment, and fuels from manure and oilseed byproducts; develop enzymatic processes for production of industrial oils from sustainable resources; develop better raw sugar production for food and bioenergy; and develop new and expanded uses of safe cottonseed products and byproducts.


The term "CRIS" stands for Current Research Information System and is simply the term we use when we talk about a research project. The following projects are funded through federal appropriations:

Postharvest Quality and Processing of Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum for Sugar and Ethanol Production (CRIS 6435-41000-103-00D)

SCIENTISTS: Gillian Eggleston and Sarah E. Lingle

OBJECTIVES: TThe overall objective of this project is to enhance the value of sugarcane and sweet sorghum, and their major commercial products sugar and ethanol, respectively, by improving postharvest quality and processing. Develop markers of low quality harvested sugarcane and sweet sorghum to predict sugar factory/distillery processing. 1) Characterize and improve sugar industry process units to minimize the impact of sugarcane trash on factory performance, including sucrose losses. 2) Identify and develop commercially viable processing technologies for the production of very high pol (VHP) and very low color (VLC) raw sugars in sugar factories. 3) Improve postharvest processing of sweet sorghum and sugarcane for syrup and bioethanol production.

APPROACH: Undertake field and factory trials to characterize the affect of green sugarcane trash on processing and manufacture of VHP and VLC raw sugars. Undertake laboratory, pilot plant, and factory studies to reduce the negative impact of green trash impurities on industrial processing of sugarcane by improving process controls, designs, and the use of processing aids. Develop and deliver methods to sugarcane breeders and sugar processors that can be used to measure sugarcane quality indicator compounds, which in turn can predict future processing problems. Develop and deliver methods to sweet sorghum processors to predict processing problems and final bioethanol yields. Improve the harvesting and factory delivery protocol for sweet sorghum for the manufacture of syrup at existing sugarcane factories and the storage of sugarcane and sweet sorghum syrup for the manufacture of bioethanol.

Thermochemical Processing of Agricultural Wastes to Value-Added Products and Bioenergy (CRIS 6435-41000-089-00D)

SCIENTISTS: K. Thomas Klasson, Isabel Lima, and S. Minori Uchimiya

OBJECTIVES: The research objectives are to develop slow pyrolysis (or torrefaction) and activation processes to convert agricultural feedstock (crop residues, manures, processing wastes, and biorefinery by-products) into: (1) chars that can be used as industrial adsorbents; (2) chars that can be used as soil amendments which improve soil quality, water quality, and sequester carbon; (3) chars that can be used as energy sources (in combustion or gasification); and (4) bio-gas and bio-oil co-products that provide some of the heat and power requirements of the pyrolysis/torrefaction/activation operations and possibly excess heat/power for sale.

APPROACH: The approach will be to take agricultural feedstocks (crop residues, animal manure, and biorefinery waste) and heat them under different gas atmospheres to a set temperature. In order to create chars for target applications, the temperature, heating time, and gas atmosphere will be varied, as well as performing pretreatment (before heating) or post treatment of the chars to obtain desired properties. The products will be tested for target applications in our laboratories and also with collaborators with expertise in ammonia adsorption, soil amendments, bio-oil production, and large-scale pyrolysis.

Value-Added Products from Cottonseed (CRIS 6435-41000-102-00D)

SCIENTISTS: Michael K. Dowd and H. N. Cheng

OBJECTIVES: The principal goal of the project is to improve the postharvest utilization of cottonseed thereby increasing value of U.S. cotton crop. This will be achieved by developing an improved understanding of cottonseed's oil, protein, and gossypol components. The objectives of the project are (1) to survey available accessions from the Genetic Resources Information Network (GRIN) cotton database for genotypes modified fatty acid profiles (2) to prepare a series of gossypol derivatives and study their bioactivity (3) to develop improved chromatographic methods for measuring low levels of gossypol (4) to study the potential use of cottonseed protein in adhesive formulations and (5) to modify cottonseed oil hydrogenation processes to reduce levels of trans fatty acids.

APPROACH: A number of analytical, chemical, microbial, and cell culture techniques will be employed to achieve the project goals. For fatty acid analysis, gas chromatography coupled with chemical derivatization will be used to profile the fatty acids from extracted cottonseed oil and hydrogenated oil samples. Laboratory synthesis methods will be used to generate gossypol derivatives and liquid chromatography methods will be used to separate and purify the resulting compounds. Microbial and cell culture assays will be used to study the bioactivity of the new compounds. Protein isolation methods will be used to recover cottonseed protein as concentrates and isolates, and these preparations will be used to formulate adhesive systems. Hot-plate pressing of plywood squares will be used to make samples to test for protein adhesive strength and durability. Modification of proteins will be achieved by chemical and physical methods.

Engineering Enzymatic Redirection of Natural Crop Oil Production to Industrial Oil Production (CRIS 6435-41000-106-00D)

SCIENTISTS: Jay Shockey, Heping Cao, K. Thomas Klasson, and Abul H. Ullah

OBJECTIVES: The overall objective of this project is to define the minimal sets of genes required for efficient synthesis and accumulation of industrially important fatty acids in transgenic hosts, and to express these genes in microbes and commodity oilseed crops for production of value-added industrial oils. During the project, we will focus on the following objectives: Objective 1: Use model plant systems to identify and refine transgenic expression conditions for critical industrial oil biosynthetic genes. Objective 2: Identify substrate specificity-determining sequences in pertinent genes from tung tree related species. Objective 3: Engineer yeast strains for use in microbial bioconversion system. Objective 4: Transfer knowledge of minimal necessary gene sets from current research (on tung tree genes) to other novel oilseed whose oil represents greater market size or strategic value; i.e., epoxy (from Crepis, Vernonia, and Euphorbia species) or acetylenic fatty acids (also from Crepis). Objective 5: Engineer tung FADX, DGAT2, and other genes from donating organism (tung tree) into commercially important oilseed crop plant such as cotton, soybean, or camelina.

APPROACH: Genes encoding the enzymes for tung oil biosynthesis will be identified by homology-based searches and next-generation high volume pyrosequencing technologies. Other necessary enzymes and proteins will be detected via transcriptomic and proteomic analysis of seeds from tung and other species. Comparisons between different species of tung that produce medium or high amounts of eleostearic will also be used to detect evolution of enzymes well-suited to tung oil production. Mutagenesis studies will identify the active sites and critical residues in these enzymes, thus facilitating the design of engineered forms of important proteins. Model laboratory species of plants and microbes will be used to express combinations of multiple tung genes to find the minimal sets necessary to produce useful levels of eleostearic and other novel fatty acids. A microbial expression system tailored for the bioconversion of low-cost oils into tung-like drying oils will be generated by engineering common yeast strains to efficiently use oils as food, convert the common fatty acids to new valuable lipids, and increase the cellular lipid content.

Last Modified: 8/12/2016
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