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Seaweed seen as viable biofuel source

Aug. 29, 2011 at 7:39 PM   |   Comments

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Aug. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a newly engineered strain of yeast can convert seaweed into biofuel in half the time needed previously.

University of Illinois scientists say red seaweed can yield the fermentable sugars glucose and galactose, but yeast normally prefers glucose and won't consume galactose until the glucose is gone, making conversion a time-consuming process. The newly engineered yeast is just as happy to go after galactose and will happily consume it and glucose simultaneously, a UI release reported Monday.

The researchers introduced a new enzyme into the yeast to create a strain that will consume both, cutting in half the production time for seaweed-based biofuel.

"It's a faster, superior process," researcher Suk-Jin Ha said. "Our view is that this discovery greatly enhances the economic viability of marine biofuels and gives us a better product."

The researchers focused on a red variety of seaweed, Gelidium amansii, that is abundant on the coastlines of Southeast Asia.

In island or peninsular nations that don't have room to grow other biofuel crops, concentrating on seaweed as a source of biofuels just makes good sense, Jin said.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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