Evolving Microbes Help Turn Bio-Oil into Advanced Biofuels

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"Iowa State researchers are using a hybrid approach to produce the next generation of biofuels."

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Microbes are working away in an Iowa State University laboratory to ferment biofuels from the sugar and acetate produced by rapidly heating biomass such as corn stalks and sawdust.

But it's not an easy job for E. coli and C. reinhardtii.

The bacteria and microalgae, respectively, don't like something in the bio-oil produced by fast pyrolysis—the rapid heating of biomass without oxygen and with catalysts. The result of the thermochemical process is a thick, brown oil that smells like molasses.

A research team led by Laura Jarboe, an Iowa State assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, is feeding the bio-oil (also known as "pyrolytic sugars") to the microbes. The E. coli are supposed to turn the levoglucosan in the sugar-rich fraction of bio-oil into ethanol and lactic acid; the C. reinhardtii are supposed to turn acetate-rich fractions into lipids for biodiesel.

It's part of the hybrid approach Iowa State researchers are using to produce the next generation of biofuels. They're combining two conversion paths—thermochemical and biochemical—to find efficient ways to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. . .View Full Article

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