Transforming Waste Into Energy

For over 15 years Dr. Elizabeth Edwards has been studying how organic contaminants are transformed by microorganisms – and how biological processes can help with the detoxification of organic contaminants in the environment.
Now Dr. Edwards and her team in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry are focusing on bioremediation and the creation of new bioproducts and biofuels. And they have received major funding to help finance their work.
The project is called "BEEM: Bioproducts and Enzymes from Environmental Metagenomes. "It will have a total budget of $10.9 million, with nearly half of the funding coming from Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute for environmental genomic research.

Dr. Edwards’ project involves the use of multi-organism gene sequencing and computer modeling, or metagenomics, to simultaneously examine entire communities of life and identify, screen and analyze proteins to determine their potential to act as catalysts to transform low-value plant residues and waste products into valuable bioproducts such as fuel. Already, the team has worked with pulp and paper mills to develop microbial processes that have reduced the harmful byproducts of the industry and used them to generate energy to power operations.  

“This funding is integral in enabling us to use the latest technologies available to examine new ways of creating sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and novel bioremediation approaches,” commented Dr. Edwards. “Using low value biomass to produce biofuels and other valuable, eco-friendly bioproducts will be a major step forward in minimizing the release of harmful contaminants into the environment.”  

Dr. Edwards will head a 12-member Core Research Team; all but one of the team members will be drawn from the University of Toronto. The project will run for four years and is expected to start in the fall.

“Professor Edwards has fostered some of the most compelling work in chemical engineering today,” said Cristina Amon, Dean, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. “We are delighted her latest project has received this recognition, and we are enormously grateful for this funding.”

Co-investigators include Emma Master, ChemE; Krishna Mahadevan, ChemE; Doug Reeve, ChemE; Bradley Seville, ChemE; Charles Mims, ChemE; and Heather MacLean, CivE.


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