James D. (“Jim”) McMillan is a group manager and principal chemical engineer in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Bioenergy Center. The group he leads works to advance biochemical- and thermochemical-based biorefining technologies, with a current focus on economical production of fuel ethanol from lignocellulosic feedstocks. He also co-chairs the Society of Industrial Microbiology’s annual Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals (SBFC) and is a member of both the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Active in AIChE for over 20 years, Jim is a former elected director in AIChE’s Food, Pharmaceutical, and Bioengineering (FPB) Division and has helped organize and chair numerous biochemical engineering-related sessions in the FBP Division. He also initiated and chaired for its first four years the highly popular annual AICHE topical conference on Biorefining.
Jim McMillan earned his bachelor's degree from Colorado State University in chemical engineering, and then a PhD in biochemical engineering and an MS in chemical engineering practice from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Jim is the author or co-author of six book chapters and more than 60 technical papers and reports and over 100 posters and presentations. He is the co-editor of the past six SBFC peer-reviewed proceedings volumes as well as the co-inventor on two patents and the co-recipient of two R&D 100 awards. He also is or has been an adjunct faculty member in the Colorado State University, University of Colorado, and University of Puerto Rico chemical engineering departments. He obtained his B.S. in chemical engineering with high distinction from Colorado State University, and his M.S. in chemical engineering practice and Ph.D. in biochemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During his years at NREL, Jim has investigated various aspects of biologically-based biomass conversion, including pretreatment, hydrolyzate conditioning, pentose and mixed sugar fermentation, cellulase enzyme production, simultaneous and separate enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation, and integrated processing. Through this and related work, he is helping to develop the tools, knowledge base and processing strategies that will enable lignocellulose-based biorefineries to become a commercial reality in the coming decades.
One of the best ways to get a feeling for the subject is to look through Jim McMillan's PowerPoint presentation given at the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2007, called Opportunities to Catalyze Biorefining and Biofuels.
Here is some background on the questions surrounding celluloseic biofuels, from the National Resources Defence Council:
Americans love automobiles. We love cruising down the open highway and the freedom of movement cars provide. But today, it's beyond argument that our gasoline habit is a road to ruin. Voices from across the political spectrum say oil dependence is bad for America's national security, economy and environment.
But what if there was a viable alternative to petroleum? What if there was a renewable, cost-competitive, global-warming-busting fuel that could be produced from plants grown right here on American soil? It may sound too good to be true, but it's not. Scientists, farmers and auto experts agree that, if they're grown and produced properly, biofuels can help free America from our oil dependence.
Simply put, biofuels are fuels made from plant materials. Right now, the main biofuel on the market is ethanol, made from corn kernels. But in order to maximize biofuels' carbon-cutting potential, we'll have to use more than just kernels. Cellulosic biofuels, made from the leaves, stems and stalks of a plant, promise even bigger global warming-busting benefits. Of course, much depends on how these fuels are produced. Chopping down forests to grow biofuel crops would be counterproductive; on the other hand, perennial prairie grasses like switchgrass can yield a lot of cellulose for biofuels and be good for the land as well.
This is not hypothetical technology of the future. Biofuels are available now, ready to compete in the market with fossil fuels. The biofuels industry relies on real-world technologies that are improving by leaps and bounds every day. With technological advances that we could deploy over the next 10 years, biofuels could bring staggering economic and environmental benefits:
- Biofuels can slash global warming pollution. By 2050, biofuels -- especially cellulosic biofuels -- could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 billion tons per year. That's equal to more than 80 percent of current transportation-related emissions.
- Biofuels can be cost competitive with gasoline and diesel. Economists estimate that by 2015, we could produce biofuels for sale at prices equal to, or lower than, average gas and diesel prices.
- Biofuels will provide a major new source of revenue for farmers. At $40 per dry ton, farmers growing 200 million tons of biomass in 2025 would make a profit of $5.1 billion per year. And that's just the beginning. Experts believe that farmers could produce six times that amount by 2050.
- Biofuels can offer major land-use benefits. Certain biofuels crops could actually improve land that's no longer productive. Switchgrass, a promising source of cellulosic biofuel, is a native, perennial prairie grass that doesn't require a lot of pesticides and fertilizers. It uses water efficiently, has low nitrogen runoff, very low erosion, and increased soil carbon, and also provides good wildlife habitat.
Iogen is Canada's leading biofuels company, one of the first to already be on line with cellulosic biofuels. Look at their interesting website by clicking here. They extract the cellulose and then burn the lignin residue to provide heat and energy for the rest of the process. Clever!