Development of microbial processes for production of chemical feedstocks from renewable materials on a large scale, without interfering with the human food supply, requires effective degradation of non-food components of biomass, such as lignocellulosic material, and assimilation of the compounds released. Engineering these capabilities into industrially useful microorganisms has proven to be challenging due to the complex and recalcitrant nature of biomass and the range of different enzyme activities required. The techniques of synthetic biology (engineering biology) are well suited to the complex genetic manipulations required to achieve this goal. Here we consider various aspects of the problem including choice of host and enzymes, methods for construction of DNA cassettes, secretion and surface display of enzymes in bacteria and yeasts, high throughput testing of constructed organisms, and experimental design to maximize useful information. We review recent reports of organisms designed for such consolidated bioprocessing, and suggest pathways towards improved outcomes.