Growing cereal grains as an energy source has been criticized for impinging on food production resources. In a plot twist, Shijie Liu, a professor of paper and bioprocess engineering at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is looking at using wood, an energy crop, as the source of a food additive.
Biorefinery processes convert biomass into energy and chemicals. Ethanol is made by a late step in processing, when six sugars – including glucose, mannose and xylose — present in wood are fermented.
While exploring ways to separate the different sugars to make the fermentation more efficient, Lui realized that sugars themselves might be marketable end products. He took a closer look at the five-carbon sugar xylose, which is used to make the sweetener xylitol.