Better Biofuels Through Bacteria, Part Two: Compost Heap Bacteria Basis for Cheaper Cellulosic Ethanol

compost pile photo

photo: Joi Ito

Sorry for the somewhat cryptic title, but with the recent announcement that researchers from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have genetically engineered a bacteria that could aid in cellulosic ethanol production , and now this following announcement from the UK, it some seemed appropriate. Don’t know if there was any mental cross-pollination here, but the two discoveries share the same principle: By using thermophilic bacteria in the cellulosic ethanol production process, the whole thing can be made more energy efficient. Here are the details:
Science Daily reports that researchers from Guildford have developed a new strain of bacteria which can aid in the processing of cellulosic ethanol, making the procedure more efficient and less costly than traditional fermentation processes.

The Traditional Process
Paul Milner of TMO Renewables Ltd, explains the traditional approach:

Conventional ethanol production is energy-intensive, expensive, and time-consuming as the barley malt or other material being brewed needs to be heated up as a mash in feedstock pre-treatment. Then it is significantly cooled from that high temperature to a lower temperature for yeast fermentation, only to be re-heated when it is later distilled into ethanol. Our process is much more energy-efficient.

...And the new discovery
Milner again:
We found some heat-loving bacteria in a compost heap, from the Geobacillus family, which in their wild form produce lactic acid as a by-product of sugar synthesis when they break down biomass. We altered their internal metabolism, adapting them to produce substantial amounts of ethanol instead.

Our new microorganism, called TM242, can efficiently convert the longer-chain sugars from woody biomass materials into ethanol. This thermophilic bacterium operates at high temperatures of 60°C-70°C and digests a wide range of feedstocks very rapidly.

Milner went onto say that TMO Renewables had just completed commissioning the UK’s first demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility, after nearly a year of construction.

via :: Science Daily
Cellulosic Ethanol
New Genetically Engineered Bacteria Could Make Cellulosic Ethanol Cheaper
First Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefinery in the U.S. Opens
India’s First Demonstration-Scale Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefinery Set to Open

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