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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Converting Sugars to Biofuels: Ethanol and Beyond.


To date, the most significant sources of biofuels are starch- or sugarcane-based ethanol, which have been industrially produced in large quantities in the USA and Brazil, respectively. However, the ultimate goal of biofuel production is to produce fuels from lignocellulosic biomass-derived sugars with optimal fuel properties and compatibility with the existing fuel distribution infrastructure. To achieve this goal, metabolic pathways have been constructed to produce various fuel molecules that are categorized into fermentative alcohols (butanol and isobutanol), non-fermentative alcohols from 2-keto acid pathways, fatty acids-derived fuels and isoprenoid-derived fuels. This review will focus on current metabolic engineering efforts to improve the productivity and the yield of several key biofuel molecules. Strategies used in these metabolic engineering efforts can be summarized as follows: (1) identification of better enzymes; (2) flux control of intermediates and precursors; (3) elimination of competing pathways; (4) redox balance and cofactor regeneration; and (5) bypassing regulatory mechanisms. In addition to metabolic engineering approaches, host strains are optimized by improving sugar uptake and utilization, and increasing tolerance to toxic hydrolysates, metabolic intermediates and/or biofuel products.

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