By: Kristian Sjøgren
Most biofuel is produced from maize. Scientists have recently discovered how to produce biofuel from maize faster and cheaper.
Scientists have discovered two new ways of using genetically modified yeast to produce biofuel more efficiently than previously possible. The two methods are described in two new studies recently published in Science.
The studies can make biofuel production much faster and cheaper and reduce the need for fossil fuels, says Professor Jens Nielsen, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosurstainability at Technical University of Denmark, who is behind on of the studies.
“The combination of the two studies are important and interesting. One can imagine that this combination can lead to major advances in ethanol fuel production, “says Nielsen.
Professor Claus Felby from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, studies the use of natural resources — using ethanol for biofuel production being one of his areas of expertise. He was not involved in the new study, but has read the papers and is very impressed — especially by the Danish study.
“The first thing I thought was: “Wow!” The Danish study is really a major breakthrough because scientists have succeeded in something that people have struggled with for a great number of years.”
Yeast is the most used microorganism in the industry, explains Felby. “If yeast can operate at higher temperatures it can be important for the pharmaceutical industry, chemical industry, and fuel industry. It’s a revolution.”
The scientists behind the second study are American scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They also believe that ethanol production will be drastically improved with the two new studies.
In the study the scientists made yeast more tolerant to the ethanol that the yeast cells produce themselves.
This means that the yeast doesn’t die when the ethanol reaches a certain concentration.
By increasing the yeasts cells tolerance, the American scientists increases the production of biofuels by 80 per cent.
The yeast tolerance to alcohol is probably the single biggest problem in the production of ethanol today. The problem can be solved with these study results,” writes Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, Gregory Stephanopoulos, in an email to ScienceNordic.
Stephanipoulos is behind the second study published in Science.
Ethanol is produced in large tanks. The process generates heat, which means that the tanks must be cooled down, otherwise the yeast dies. Cooling the tanks is expensive and also, the added enzymes actually work better at high temperatures around 45-50 degrees, but the yeast simply stops working around 35 degrees.
Also, the yeast cells do not tolerate the ethanol they produce themselves. When the concentration of alcohol becomes high enough the yeast cells degrade and the ethanol production decreases.
Both problems are solved in the new studies. Here, the Danish/Swedish scientists have modified the yeast cell genomes so that they can tolerate temperatures up to 40 degrees instead of only 35 degrees.
“It’s a big step in the right direction that we can make yeast that can operate at higher temperatures,” says Nielsen.