N.Y. state awards Cornell's Walker $750,000 for biofuel research

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Biological and environmental engineer Larry P. Walker of Cornell University has been awarded $750,000 by a New York state research agency to explore the use of plant and microbial resources to produce biofuels, industrial chemicals, natural products and other consumer goods.

Walker, a professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, received the award through the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research's (NYSTAR) Faculty Development Program. The funds are designed to assist universities in the recruitment and retention of leading research faculty in science and technology fields with strong commercial potential.

The award was part of more than $4.4 million in funding to researchers at five universities in New York state.

Walker's NYSTAR-funded research will concentrate on integrating nanotechnology with classical molecular biology and microbiology techniques to engineer industrial enzymes or to identify novel microorganisms that are important in the production of biofuels and industrial chemicals. His research group has been actively involved in developing more efficient and cost effective enzymes (cellulases) that can convert plant-derived cellulose into fermentable sugars and developing the processes that can convert these sugars into ethanol, hydrogen and other important fuels or industrial chemicals. Another major focus of Walker's research group is to develop a lab-on-a-chip device for an accurate and detailed description of bacteria and to identify novel industrial microorganisms and enzymes that could be employed in bioconversion.

Walker has been involved in a number of biomass-to-energy and chemical projects, including an assessment of New York state biomass resources available for ethanol production, on-farm methane production and cogeneration, the application of nanotechnology to discover and study important biocatalysts for industrial biotechnology and the optimization of solid-state fermentation for the production of biocontrol products.