Tuesday November 29, 2016

Titan Supercomputer Hunting for Better Biofuel in Massive Molecular Simulation

Henry Ford once called ethanol "the fuel of the future." That day may be moving closer, thanks to the Tesla GPU-accelerated Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A corn-derived biofuel, ethanol has the potential to be a widely used renewable transportation fuel, but its biomolecular structure has kept it from being economically viable to produce at mass scale. That’s where Oak Ridge scientist Jeremy Smith and Titan come in. Smith and his team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center have used the Titan supercomputer to fastidiously produce some of the most immense and complex biomolecular simulations in history. The main focus of their research is lignin, a vital component of plant cell walls that blocks enzymes from breaking down cellulose. Because cellulose breakdown is critical to converting plant materials into simple sugars, and eventually into biofuel, extracting the lignin is key to cost-effective ethanol production.