Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Microbiologists aim to optimize bio-ethanol production

Date:
February 4, 2011
Source:
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Summary:
Researchers are working to resolve an emerging "food versus fuel" rivalry: they are investigating how to most effectively utilize residual field crop material for industrial production of bio-ethanol. Getting a handle on the full "toolbox" that soil bacteria use to transform cellulose into sugar could help to optimize combinations of enzymes for industrial use, potentially leading to development of a specialized degradation tool for every kind of plant waste containing cellulose.

C.thermocellum bacteria degrading a cellulose fiber (1000-fold magnification). Cellulose is responsible for the stability of the plant during growth -- and it is therefore extremely sturdy.
Credit: Image courtesy of Technische Universitaet Muenchen

Food versus fuel -- this rivalry is gaining significance against a backdrop of increasingly scarce farmland and a concurrent trend towards the use of bio-fuels. Researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) are helping to resolve this rivalry: They are working to effectively utilize residual field crop material -- which has been difficult to use thus far -- for the industrial production of bio-ethanol. They took a closer look at bacteria that transform cellulose into sugar, thereby increasing the energy yield from plants utilized. If this approach works, both bread and bio-fuel could come from the same harvest in the future.

Related Articles


The age of diesel and gasoline is approaching its inevitable end. However, one of the alternatives, bio-ethanol made from plant material by way of microorganism fermentation, is under attack. Until now, bio-ethanol has been produced from crops such as wheat, sugar cane or corn, or more accurately, from the sugar these crops contain in the form of starch. However, when field crops are used for the production of bio-ethanol, they are no longer available as food. Researchers at the TUM Department of Microbiology are working on a solution to this dilemma. The idea: Make the sugar stored in the stems and leaves of plants in the form of cellulose available for bio-ethanol production. "It is our goal to take the cellulose, which has so far hardly been used, and turn it into sugar on an industrial scale, which can then be processed to bio-ethanol," says microbiologist Dr. Wolfgang Schwarz.

But it is not that simple. As the main constituent of plant cell walls, cellulose is responsible for the stability of the plant during growth -- and it is therefore extremely sturdy. Sugar molecules form cellulose molecules, which are connected in robust chains to form extremely resilient fibers. Breaking down the stable cellulose into sugar is difficult. Luckily, nature provides enzymes that can do just that. They are found in bacteria, for instance, that live in the stomachs of cows. In these natural "bio-reactors" they help digest grass and release the sugar. However, the bacteria take a very long time to break down the cellulose. Before cellulose can be transformed into bio-fuel in an efficient and cost-effective way on an industrial scale, the process must improve significantly.

The TUM Department of Microbiology has taken on this task. On the one hand its scientists search through nature's immense microbial diversity for as yet unknown cellulose-degrading enzymes. On the other hand they are isolating new "cellulose-eating" germs from nature in order to examine them more closely. Dr. Schwarz's work group is now taking a closer look at the most promising of these bacteria, Clostridium thermocellum. This soil bacterium has altogether over 70 enzymes that it uses to degrade different parts of plant cell walls. Thanks to this "toolbox" the bacterium can adapt perfectly to its environment. Depending on whether it lives in straw, leaves or waste wood, C. thermocellum produces a different, effective enzyme complex on its surface to degrade the cellulose.

The TUM researchers are now testing this principle in the lab. They want to use the bacterium's toolbox to find ideal enzyme combinations for the industrial degradation of cellulose. To do this they firstly identified the most powerful enzymes and generated them in a test tube. These components were then combined to produce multiple variations, the best of which were selected by the microbiologists. Doctoral candidate Jan Krauss spent three years working on this: "We are now optimizing the most effective combinations for industrial use. Our ultimate goal is to develop a specialized degradation tool for every individual plant waste material containing cellulose. With a bit of luck we will find the perfect enzyme mixtures, which can then become established in bio-ethanol production facilities."

With this research program the TUM scientists are in sync with current industrial trends. Süd-Chemie AG is building a pilot plant in Straubing to convert the biogenic residual product straw into ethanol.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Technische Universitaet Muenchen. "Microbiologists aim to optimize bio-ethanol production." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203113810.htm>.
Technische Universitaet Muenchen. (2011, February 4). Microbiologists aim to optimize bio-ethanol production. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203113810.htm
Technische Universitaet Muenchen. "Microbiologists aim to optimize bio-ethanol production." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203113810.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Watch Baby Goose Survive A 400-Foot Cliff Dive

Buzz60 (Oct. 31, 2014) — For its nature series Life Story, the BBC profiled the barnacle goose, whose chicks must make a daredevil 400-foot cliff dive from their nests to find food. Jen Markham has the astonishing video. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) — The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Alcoholic Drinks In The E.U. Could Get Calorie Labels

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) — A health group in the United Kingdom has called for mandatory calorie labels on alcoholic beverages in the European Union. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

Malaria Threat in Liberia as Fight Against Ebola Rages

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) — Focus on treating the Ebola epidemic in Liberia means that treatment for malaria, itself a killer, is hard to come by. MSF are now undertaking the mass distribution of antimalarials in Monrovia. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
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