Study looks to bacteria for biofuel

Feb. 15, 2012 at 3:44 PM
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OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Bacteria first found in Yellowstone's hot springs could make ethanol production from crops such as switchgrass commercially viable, U.S. researchers say.

Current ethanol production methods rely on the use of expensive enzymes to break down complex plant materials to yield sugars that are fermented into ethanol.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have been looking at a cheaper alternative called consolidated bioprocessing, a streamlined process that uses microorganisms to break down the resistant biomass.

"Consolidated bioprocessing is like a one-pot mix," researcher Richard Giannone said in a release issued by the laboratory Wednesday. "You want to throw plant material into a pot with the microorganism and allow it to degrade the material and produce ethanol at the same time."

A study by the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center at laboratory focused on Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis, a naturally occurring bacterium discovered in a Yellowstone National Park hot spring.

The microorganism, which thrives at extremely high temperatures, breaks down organic material such as sticks and leaves in its natural environment. Researchers said they're working on transferring this capability to biofuel production tanks.

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