Friday, December 12, 2008

Pseudotrichonympha grassi & Clostridium phytofermentans Take Biofuels Center Stage

Two bacterial cellulose-chompers have made the news this week. Pseudotrichonympha grassi (P. grassi) is commonly found in termite gut, a symbiont that thrives on woody cellulose. Biofuels researchers are trying to make use of P. grassi and its termite gut associates in the rush to turn cellulose into useful fuels. Clostridium phytofermentans is even more intriguing.
Qteros says that its bacteria can convert many different types of feedstock, including starch, corn cobs, sugarcane bagasse, and woody biomass, directly into ethanol. And while most organisms that can break down cellulose--including common yeast--can only digest six-carbon sugars, the Q can digest five-carbon sugars too, meaning that it can produce more ethanol from the same material, Frey says.
The biofuels industry also received some good news from the US political front, where narcissist-elect Barak Obama has selected Nobel Laureate Steven Chu -- an advocate of biofuels -- for the position of US Energy Secretary. It is rare for cabinet secretaries to be as accomplished as Chu.
Steven Chu, Obama's pick for the head of the Department of Energy, is a steadfast supporter of next-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, expected to be made from the tough woody bits of crops like grasses and fast growing trees as well as plant and timber waste.

A 2007 report co-chaired by Chu, and commissioned by the governments of China and Brazil, called for "intensive research" into production of cellulosic, which relies on technology like isolating microbes, or using large amounts of heat and steam, to break down the tough bits into fuel.

Chu, the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel physics laureate, also helped organize the Energy Biosciences Institute, a lab focusing on next-generation biofuels funded with $500 million from oil major BP Plc. _Reuters
Chu is opposed to maize ethanol mandates, however. Chu's appointment may mean a much faster transition to cellulosic alcohols and synthetic hydrocarbons.

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