Imagine a world where you could brew your own fuel. Exciting, isn’t it? Well, according to researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD), that day is not too far away. As part of a new project, the scientists have devised an innovative technique that uses naturally-occurring microorganisms to ferment biogas and organic matter into specific hydrocarbons, such as gasoline.
The team, led by UMD’s Richard Kohn and Dr. Seon-Woo Kim, was originally awarded a patent for a process, which involved the use of ethanol-tolerant microbes to generate ethanol from biomass-based materials. Recently, the researchers have been awarded yet another patent; this time for a somewhat similar process that produces octane and hexane, the two main constituents of gasoline.
During the brewing process, in both cases, the resultant fuel separates from the biomass, and slowly rises to the top of the fermentation broth, thus making its extraction rather easy. For the research, recently published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, the scientists spent countless hours isolating and breeding particular species of microorganisms that are capable of turning cellulose-based biomass (or gaseous hydrogen and carbon dioxide) into usable biofuels, including ethanol, butane, hexane and 1-butanol.
Cellulosic biomass refers to any kind of organic matter derived from living plant resources, like trees, grass, grains, corn stalks and so on. The specially-engineered microorganisms thrive on CO2, which is a common byproduct of agri-industrial process. According to the scientists, the new technique is significantly more cost-effective and energy-efficient than traditional methods of producing ethanol from biomass. The team is currently working to improve the process even further.
Source: University of Maryland