Researchers at Dartmouth have genetically engineered a bacterium that makes ethanol as the only product of its fermentation from breaking down products like wood and grass. Researchers in the school's engineering department working with Mascoma Corporation have come up with the first step, a proof of concept, of ethanol-producing microbes that can make ethanol from cellulosic biomass without adding enzymes. The next step is developing the bacterium for commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.
Mascoma's has been extolling it's system for a while now, saying they were certain that they'd have the proper bacteria ready for implemention in an ethanol production plant. Turns out they weren't just full of e-coli.
The discovery could eventually lead to a process to turn inedible cellulosic biomass such as wood, grass and various waste materials, into ethanol. The heat-loving bacterium developed has an advantage over the current method because cellulase enzymes used for ethanol production is expensive. Lee Lynd, a professor at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, says the genetically engineered new organism can augment the process at a lower cost.
The researchers published their findings in last week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The hunt for cheaper ways of producing ethanol is a race engaging researchers in multiple disciplines. Everyone wants to find alternatives to petroleum-derived fuel for transportation and other ways of producing ethanol that is not through food source.
What the researchers found was they could genetically engineer a bacterium that worked at high temperatures to break down the sugar out of wood, which could then be distilled into fuel.
All the current ethanol produced in the U.S. comes from corn. However, there are problems in doing that because corn as a raw material for ethanol production is costly and cheaper technology for converting cellulosic materials would make ethanol a more suitable alternative to petroleum.
The raw material used in making cellulosic ethanol won't affect food crops on a large scale and could be cost-wise competitive with petroleum. Environmental pluses would be near-zero net greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable carbon cycle with the CO2 captured growing the biomass roughly the same as the CO2 emitted while running an engine.
What the researchers at Dartmouth and Mascoma hope to eventually create is a one-step process for making cellulosic ethanol in a combined process of putting microbes and a mixture of biomass into one tank and having ethanol come out in the end.
written by James Love, September 18, 2008
|< Prev||Next >|