Fuel from bugs

There are two key problems with using fossil fuels. They produce CO2 on combustion and they are non renewable. This posting aims to deal with the latter – the non renewable problem. Fossil fuels will run out someday soon so we really need to think about developing sustainable fuels.

Ethanol, produced by fermentation of sugar cane has been heralded as a possible answer to the problem. We are probably all familiar with biofuels and Brazil seems to successfully use gasohol. However, there were unforeseen problems in using sugar cane to make the ethanol. Food prices rocketed and forests needed to be cleared for new sugar cane plantations. The emissions released in the sugar cane processing plants produce a larger carbon footprint than oil drilling. Cue TMO Renewables with a potential solution….

Tony Atkinson discovered an ethanol producing bacteria back in 1973. Since this discovery, he has founded TMO Renewables and is now breeding these super-bugs to digest woody biomass from straw to wood chips and corn husks. Corn husks are of particular interest as the large global ethanol producers currently view corn-husks as a waste product of their ethanol production. It is often broken down into low value animal feed but if the superbugs were incorporated into the process, more high value ethanol could be produced (1).

The superbugs also work at a faster rate than traditional methods of ethanol production.

Could this be the answer to our ethanol production problems? Watch this space.

(1) This blog was adapted from an article in ‘http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article7026233.ece’ accessed on 30th March 2010

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