RALEIGH, N.C. — Vincent Chiang, a professor of forest biotechnology at North Carolina State University, has landed a $700,000 grant to pursue ethanol research.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the project, which will focus on development of biomass from trees that can be converted to ethanol.

Chiang hopes to utilize gene research to get trees to produce greater amounts of cellulose and hemicelluloses that can be extracted for ethanol production. Cellulose and hemicelluloses are polysaccharides that make up 70 percent of wood’s weight. But extraction of the polysaccharides is a complex process due to the presence of lignin that “glues” the polysaccharides together to form wood.

“We have engineered trees with less lignin, and as a result we know that those trees are very useful for ethanol production,” Chiang said in a statement. “Now we’re interested in looking not just at genes that control lignin production, but at the genes that regulate how polysaccharides are made in wood.”

Chiang’s research will focus on the eastern cottonwood tree. That tree species genome is the only one that has been sequenced successfully by researchers, according to NCSU.

“We want to understand at the genome level what controls the synthesis of the three major components of wood,” Chiang said. “If we can find the regulators that tell a tree to make more of one component and less of another, then we can engineer trees that are enriched with polysaccharides — a perfect feedstock for ethanol production.”