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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 4 (2009 Deadline)

Solid Waste Management for Bioenergy Production

William J. Orts, US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
Romana Tabassum, National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering
Pakistani Funding (HEC): $257,000
US Funding (Department of State): $200,000
Project Dates: October 1, 2011 - September 30, 2014 (Extended through February 28, 2015)
Project Overview
This multidisciplinary project will develop new technology for converting waste into renewable energy, potentially helping to reduce Pakistan’s reliance on petroleum imports as well as the costs of waste treatment. Researchers from USDA and NIBGE will work together to study ways of producing biomethane gas and ethanol from agricultural biomass, industrial waste (including office waste, newsprint, and packaging), and municipal solid waste (MSW). The US principal investigator Dr. Orts is currently involved in operating a pilot-scale MSW-to-bioenergy conversion facility in California; however, this operation has yet to fully integrate the simultaneous production of ethanol and biomethane that is planned for the current project. This new joint project will also look at how different types of waste pretreatments such as enzymes and autoclaving affect relative yields of ethanol versus biomethane. Furthermore, ideal enzyme mixtures must be developed for the types of comingled waste streams typical in Pakistan. By demonstrating the potential environmental and economic benefits of improved waste processing methods, this team ultimately hopes to transfer the technology developed to the private sector for commercialization.
Quarterly Update
Ms. Tanveer Majeed, a graduate student from Dr. Tabassum’s lab in Faisalabad, arrived January 2013 for a six month training in the U.S. lab. She is working under the direction of Dr. Charles Lee and William Orts and started research to clone and characterize an alkaline thermostable protease (protein-degrading) enzyme from a Bacillus licheniformis strain. This strain was isolated from Pakistan because it has particularly interesting properties for biomass pretreatment – converting waste material into simple sugars. The Bacillus strain was purified in the Faisalabad lab and the resulting protease enzyme was fully characterized. Research in California included cloning the particular gene responsible for the protease enzyme and then characterizing the recombinant enzyme. Ms. Majeed and Dr. Lee are also developing other strains in case the cloning is not optimized from the original strain. In the Pakistan labs of Dr. Tabassum research continues on samples of lignocellulosic wastes. These samples were then sent to California for further characterization by electron microscopy and chemical/spectral analysis.

The pilot-scale digestor will be finished in the next nine months including initial test runs. Lab work on enzyme development, microbe improvement, and biomass pretreatment methods will continue. Arrangements are being made for another graduate student, Nagina Rafique, from the Faisalabad lab to join Dr. Lee in his lab. Collaborative research will continue especially focusing on enzymes that breakdown pectin- useful in both the biofuels and food industries.
The biggest impediment for face-to-face meetings has been the fact that USDA researchers have not been allowed to visit Pakistan as part of their official duties. Dr. Orts and his colleagues were invited to participate in joint workshops in Pakistan, to meet their collaborators, however, the USDA travel office has not permitted these trips.
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