When established by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2007, BESC sought researchers from institutions across the United States to bring breadth and depth of expertise to the challenge of overcoming biomass recalcitrance. Transformative advances in understanding recalcitrance require detailed knowledge of the chemical and physical properties of biomass that influence its resistance to degradation. Research has been aimed at determining:
- How these properties can be altered by engineering plant biosynthetic pathways.
- How biomass properties change during pretreatment.
- How such changes affect biomass-biocatalyst interactions during deconstruction by enzymes and microorganisms.
Historically, the term “recalcitrance” was coined to describe an overall phenotypic trait of biomass, namely the degree of difficulty in obtaining access to sugars complexed in the plant cell wall. However, based on new knowledge about cell wall chemistry, structure, and biochemistry, BESC researchers have redefined recalcitrance as a phenomenon in terms of pathways and interactions, both in cell wall formation and bioconversion. This increasing knowledge of the scientific basis of recalcitrance underpins the overall BESC goal of eliminating it as an economic barrier to cost-effective biofuel production.