Saturday, 12 July 2008

Biofuels development relies on Aspergillus

Biofuels - are they good for the environment?
There are numerous efforts underway to find new fuels to power devices that are currently powered by oil-based fuels - particularly as the oil supply comes under increasing demand and reserves start to taper off. Biofuels are one solution as these are made from plants and are therefore renewable - as long as the sun keeps shining! One strategy is to generate sugars from plant material and then ferment that sugar to produce ethanol - a burnable fuel made from plant material currently unused.

"It is estimated that more than a billion tons of lignocellulosic plant biomass could be utilized each year to produce liquid biofuels in North America alone." (ref)

Plant material is largely composed of cellulose and other complex sugars that need to be broken down into simple sugars before they can be fermented. Simple sugars are made by treating the plant material with enzymes called cellulases, and many efforts are being made to find the most efficient ways of carrying out this vital stage in biofuel production - the more sugar produced, the more fuel made.

Aspergillus is used as an enzyme production factory for several industries as it can produce many times the amount of enzyme normally available in the natural host organism for that enzyme - in this case Trichoderma reesei. In this paper a refinement is suggested for the enzyme production process in order to improve activity once produced in Aspergillus.

This report states that Aspergillus will play a major role in research into efficient ways to make biofuels by using Aspergillus to make the cellulases which will be the key to converting plant material into fuels that will eventually surely replace oil based fuels.

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