Renewable, clean, and sustainable energy—only an elusive dream for so long—could soon become a reality, with roots in familiar places. Poplar trees, western red cedar, flax, creosote bushes, and canola are all plants that can grow readily in Washington State, and all hold tremendous promise for generating new sources of power.

For Norman Lewis, soaring oil prices and our reliance on fossil fuels for everyday activities, like traveling and farming, motivated him to explore plants for alternatives. His goal of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by replacing them with environmentally friendly biofuels inspires the groundbreaking research he conducts at WSU. Recent breakthrough results from his experiments with plant lignins—vascular structures, akin to the human skeleton—and related aromatic hydrocarbons, suggest sustainable new ways of producing renewable biofuels and other products such as polymer substitutes.

Dr. Lewis and his colleagues are currently focusing on creating biofuels and polymer substitutes to be used in lubricants, plastics, and even jet fuel by genetically modifying non-food crop plants. Their efforts to develop natural, renewable, clean, and sustainable solutions to the world’s energy needs contribute to global efforts to reduce environmental impact, such as air and water pollution.

As Washington’s large utilities will be required to generate 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, and federal mandates will require 30 percent of gasoline to come from alternative fuels, demand for bioenergy solutions will climb. Dr. Lewis’ work contributes to worldwide efforts to conserve natural resources and reduce energy costs, while contributing to the state’s economic strength and global influence.


Featuring: Norman G. Lewis, Ph.D.

Dr. Norman G. Lewis is director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry at WSU and is widely recognized by the plant science research community as one of the outstanding plant biochemists in the nation. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in 1977 and joined the WSU faculty in 1990 as the Arthur M. and Kate Eisig-Tode Distinguished Professor and Fellow. He was named Regents Professor at WSU in March in recognition of his exemplary research and teaching. Dr. Lewis currently serves on scientific advisory boards for major research centers across the United States and in Taiwan. Dr. Lewis is one of the pioneers who have greatly advanced our understanding of the biochemistry of phenylpropanoids. President of the Phytochemical Society of North America, Dr. Lewis is regional editor for Phytochemistry, a monitoring editor for Plant Physiology (ASPB), and executive editor for a new Elsevier Series “Advances in Plant Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.” The N.G. Lewis research group has published more than 200 scientific papers.