Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

From biomass to ethanol and methane: New enzyme may lead to cheaper biofuel

Date:
October 18, 2010
Source:
The Research Council of Norway
Summary:
Logging residue, branch clippings and even prawn shells may serve as raw materials for cheaper biofuels -- thanks to a new enzyme that breaks down biomass more quickly. What's more, this could help to curtail the current practice of using valuable food plants for fuel production.

Logging residue, branch clippings and even prawn shells may serve as raw materials for cheaper biofuels -- thanks to a new enzyme that breaks down biomass more quickly. What's more, this could help to curtail the current practice of using valuable food plants for fuel production

Norwegian scientists reported the promising findings recently in the journal Science.

Simple in theory, but...

Ethanol and methane are alternative energy sources that can be produced through the decomposition of carbohydrate-rich biomass of both marine and terrestrial origins. Potential sources include shellfish, which are full of the carbohydrate chitin, and wood and waste wood, since they contain cellulose.

Finding a quick, efficient means of converting biomass that is rich in chitin or cellulose into biofuel, however, has been difficult. This means that much of today's biofuel is derived from food plants such as sugar cane, corn and rapeseed -- crops that could be used to feed people.

"In theory it's easy to convert the carbohydrates in cellulose, for instance, to small sugar molecules that nourish microorganisms which in turn produce methane and ethanol. But in practice, it has proven to be quite challenging," explains Dr Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad, Researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB). He is among the seven co-authors of the article in the journal Science.

Breaks down strong glucose chains

The hard part, so to speak, is that the respective carbohydrate polymers of both chitin and cellulose form extremely dense, resilient bonds. Indeed, the biological function of chitin and cellulose is precisely to make the organism physically hard and durable -- slowing the breakdown rate for enzymes whose function is to decompose these kinds of material.

The Science article describes how the "new" enzymes (the authors have designated them oxidohydrolases) help to biodegrade the seemingly insoluble carbohydrate polymers in cellulose and chitin.

Enzyme design is the key to the solution. To do their job, the enzymes must first be designed to attach securely to the crystalline glucose chains they are intended to break down. This allows them to split the sugars repeatedly without falling off.

Simpler, cheaper, more sustainable

Oxidohydrolases could make it both less costly and easier to produce biofuel.

They could also serve to scale back the controversial practice of using edible plants to produce that biofuel. Sustainable large-scale biofuel production will require materials that are more readily available -- so scientists, politicians and environmentalists have long sought an efficient method for utilising less-valuable biological resources as the raw materials.

The Norwegian researchers' findings may well represent the long-awaited breakthrough. The UMB researchers have applied for a patent on their method and are discussing further collaboration with the international enzyme producer Novozymes.

Broad-based funding from the Research Council

The Research Council of Norway has funded this research through several sources, including the open competitive arena for independent, researcher-initiated basic research projects (FRIPRO) and the research programmes on Basic Industry-oriented Biotechnology (GNBIO -- terminated), Clean Energy for the Future (RENERGI), and Nature-based Industry (NATUROGNAERING).

"Funding for independent projects from the Research Council has enabled us to carry out basic research," project manager Gustav Vaaje-Kolstad told the Norwegian News Agency (NTB). "Independent basic research allows one to think freely, to be creative and follow one's scientific intuition, without being limited by the demands of an industrial project."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Research Council of Norway. The original article was written by Synnøve Bolstad/Else Lie; translation by Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Vaaje-Kolstad, B. Westereng, S. J. Horn, Z. Liu, H. Zhai, M. Sorlie, V. G. H. Eijsink. An Oxidative Enzyme Boosting the Enzymatic Conversion of Recalcitrant Polysaccharides. Science, 2010; 330 (6001): 219 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192231

Cite This Page:

The Research Council of Norway. "From biomass to ethanol and methane: New enzyme may lead to cheaper biofuel." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013095546.htm>.
The Research Council of Norway. (2010, October 18). From biomass to ethanol and methane: New enzyme may lead to cheaper biofuel. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013095546.htm
The Research Council of Norway. "From biomass to ethanol and methane: New enzyme may lead to cheaper biofuel." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101013095546.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) — Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) — An entomologist stumbled upon a South American Goliath Birdeater. With a name like that, you know it's a terrifying creepy crawler. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins