Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering David Wu will lead a team of scientists to research the process of converting waste into usable energy.

Backed by a $1.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Wu will research methods of converting biological waste into usable hydrogen or ethanol gas.

C. thermocellum, the bacteria Wu studies, is capable of breaking down the tough cellulose in plants for practical use.

‘Our goal is to understand how the bacterium controls the production of these two energy sources so we can engineer genetic modifications to enhance and control what it produces,” Wu said. ‘It’s an exciting possibility that we may be able to convert biomass we would have otherwise discarded directly into usable liquid or gas fuel at will.”

Wu is one of the leading scientists researching the microorganism’s capabilities. He has already studied its genome extensively, and he plans to discover its unique properties.

UR will receive over $1 million of the grant and will share the remainder with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Leber is a member of the class of 2011.

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