About the 2011 Mines Medal Recipient
Lee Rybeck Lynd, Ph.D. —
is a professor of engineering and an adjunct professor of biology and of earth science at Dartmouth College; professor extraordinary of microbiology at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; and director and chief scientific officer of Mascoma Corporation, a biomass energy start-up he co-founded.
Dr. Lynd is an expert on utilization of plant biomass for production of energy. His contributions span the science, technology, and policy domains, and include leading research on fundamental and biotechnological aspects of microbial cellulose utilization. He has led an active research group addressing these issues over the last two decades, authoring over 100 technical papers as well as widely cited reviews, book chapters, and numerous patents.
Dr. Lynd is the inaugural recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Sustainability Prize and two-time recipient of the Charles A. Lindbergh Award. A frequently invited presenter on technical and strategic aspects of biomass energy, Lynd has testified before the United States Senate three times and has been featured in Wired and Forbes, on Nova, and at the Nobel Conference.
Since writing his undergraduate thesis on the subject in 1979, Lynd has studied the production of transportation fuels from inedible, cellulosic biomass. Whereas the dominant focus in the field has until recently been processes featuring an expensive step for production of cellulose enzymes, Lynd's focus has been a one-step microbial conversion of cellulosic biomass without added enzymes. In 1996, he proposed to call this "consolidated bioprocessing," or "CBP," now the accepted term for this processing strategy. In that same year, Lynd was the lead on the most widely cited review addressing CBP, and he has authored several prominent reviews since.
Over the last 10 years, Lynd has actively pursued genetic engineering of CBP-enabling microbes, elucidation of the fundamentals of microbial cellulose utilization, and related design and analysis. Selected achievements include the first paper reporting growth of a recombinant yeast on cellulose, the first report of engineering a thermophilic bacterium to make ethanol at high yield, and two seminal papers on microbial cellulose utilization fundamentals supporting the feasibility of CBP.
Today, CBP is "widely considered to be the ultimate low-cost configuration for cellulose hydrolysis and fermentation" (Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulose Ethanol - A Joint Research Agenda. U.S. DOE, DOE/SC-0095, Washington, DC, 2006), and appears poised to enable the long-anticipated emergence of a cellulosic biofuels industry. While the rise of CBP from obscurity to prominence is the result of many people's efforts, Lynd is the leading technical expert on both fundamental and applied aspects of CBP and has been the foremost champion of this idea over the last 20 years.
Since the 1980s, Lynd has been active in analyzing and envisioning the role of plant biomass in a sustainable world. His 1991 paper in Science was among the first to recognize the potential for carbon-neutral production of cellulosic biofuels. From 2002 to 2009, he co-led the "Role of Biomass in America's Energy Future" project, which played a central role in raising expectations for biofuels and is the most comprehensive analysis of mature biomass conversion technology to date. The project identified paths to reconciling the food vs. fuel conflict in a U.S. context and led to eight papers in a special edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biorefining (March/April, 2009). Motivated by a desire to bring needed clarity and understanding to biofuel land use issues on a global scale, Lynd recently initiated and serves as steering committee chair for the Global Sustainable Bioenergy Project, an international consortium representing academic, environmental advocacy, and research institutions.
In 2006, Lynd co-founded Mascoma Corporation with colleague and former Dartmouth professor Charles Wyman, and received initial investment by venture capitalist and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. Since then, he has served the company as Chief Scientific Officer and member of the Board of Directors. As detailed elsewhere (www.Mascoma.com), Mascoma employs 90 people, has raised $100 million in private investment and $50 million in government funds, has partnerships with GM, Marathon Oil, and Chevron, and is at the forefront of efforts to commercialize cellulosic ethanol plants.
In May 2009, Mascoma announced a first-ever proof of concept for CBP enabled by genetically engineered yeasts with cellulose expression increased 3000-fold.