A tiny microbe may hold the key to simpler, lower-cost production of ethanol from biomass sources such as trees, grasses and cornstalks.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are studying a bacterium known as Clostridium thermocellum, which has the ability to both degrade cellulose -- cellulose makes up the cell walls of plants -- into sugars and then ferment these sugars into alcohol, or ethanol.
Today's production methods involve a costly, multi-step, enzyme-and-yeast-based process that would price the fuel at more than $2.20 per gallon.
A group of ORNL researchers headed by Jonathan Mielenz is studying gene expression in this microbe to determine how these enzymatic functions are performed, revealing strategies for further reducing the cost of ethanol production. Within five years, researchers hope to demonstrate their process enhancements on an industrial scale.
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