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George Tsao, PhD

Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE)
500 Central Drive, Room 218

Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Phone: 765/494-7024
Fax: 765/494-7023


The Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering was founded in 1978 by Professor George Tsao, at a time of national need, in which rising oil prices threatened to disrupt the economy, cause inflation, and disrupt automobile and truck transportation systems in the U.S. There were long gasoline lines, coupled with concern over the energy security of the United States. In response to this challenge, the U.S. launched a number of initiatives in order to convert renewable resources into fuel ethanol, with LORRE becoming one of the start-ups in renewable resources research.

Under the leadership of Professor Tsao, the program in LORRE led to many significant, first of a kind, developments, not the least of which was the recognition of renewable resources as a bridge to a sustainable future. His leadership catalyzed many firsts - some hotly debated at the time - including development of the first mechanisms that described the role of pretreatment on enzyme hydrolysis, identification of product inhibition of cellulases, engineering of concentrated acid and dilute acid hydrolysis processes that efficiently produced fermentable sugars in high yields and concentrations, the first genetic modifications leading to robust C5/C6 fermenting yeasts that enabled 30 to 40% increases in ethanol yield from cellulosic biomass, and use of bacterial fermentations to transform C5 and C6 sugars to drop-in biofuels and oxygenated monomers for polymer synthesis.

These initiatives, and the vision of Professor Tsao on future trends in the biotechnology of industrial microorganisms, were significantly ahead of their time, and helped to establish the field of renewable resources, as we know it today. As a leader in the field of biochemical engineering, Professor Tsao, and his peers - D.I.C. Wang, Arthur Humphrey, Charles Cooney, Jay Bailey, Elmer Gaden, Harry Bungay, and others - brought quantitative engineering principles to the development of renewable resources and developed fermentation technologies that today are the foundations of biochemical engineering and systems biology. He was a leader in applying the new biotechnology to alter the genetic make-up of industrial microorganisms for production of biochemicals. This has evolved to the field we now know as industrial biotechnology. Professor Tsao was among the first to recognize how principles of biochemical engineering should be used to engineer processes by which bioproducts could be derived with a minimal carbon footprint. His pioneering efforts and exemplary initiatives, started 40 years ago, are still evolving.

Over the years The Laboratory has graduated several hundred students who have taken academic and industrial positions throughout the world. These students have become leaders in the different areas of renewable resources engineering, and are now actively working to bring solutions to a global energy security issues, compounded by the growth of energy usage and impending consequences of climate change. The issues and solutions are now much closer than they were in 1978. Thanks to Professor Tsao there is a place - The Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering - where questions can be asked and fundamental research carried out so that a sustainable world may evolve in which renewable resources are an integral part of the solution. This is one of the many legacies of the founder of The Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, Professor George Tsao, whose vision in 1978, is becoming clear to the rest of our world, today.

Michael Ladisch
October 21, 2013

"Visionaries of Industrial Biotechnology"

Award Presented to George Tsao by the Chemical Heritage Foundation
Second International Forum: Commercializing Global Green
November 12, 2013