Fossil fuels are one of the greatest influences on climate change which could lead to an increase in global temperatures within the next 30 years states the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel studying Climate Change. Luckily alternative fuel sources are being developed which come from sustainable organic matter using chemical engineering in a process called bioprocessing. Scientists from Switzerland have discovered a new and more effective method of streamlining bioprocessing which could lead to more efficient production of biofuels to decrease the use of fossil fuels in modern society.
One of the problems with traditional biofuel production came from its inefficiency to provide large scale supply to replace the need for fossil fuels. With this latest research, “second generation biofuels” are on track to become a viable solution to energy resources around the world. Lignocellulosic biomass is the key to second generation biofuels, where first generation biofuel was traditionally manufactured from food crops such as corn and sugar cane which was not only insufficient but a potential problem for food production globally. As explored previously maintaining a balance for biofuel production and food crops is becoming an integral part of scientific research to solve this dilemma.
Steps Involved in Bioprocessing
- Pretreatment of biomass is conducted at increased temperatures
- Enzymes are manufactured for the final hydrolysis phase
- Enzymes are added to separate monosaccharides (xylose and glucose)
- Additional steps are sometimes required to wash and detoxify monosaccharides to increase biofuel yield
The latest research from Swiss scientists has found a way to combine these processes (with consolidated bioprocessing) making it more cost effective while maintaining greater yields in a process called consolidated bioprocessing. Part of this breakthrough technology comes from using processes of molecular biology and bioengineering to produce genetically engineered microorganisms to complete the processes of hydrolysis in one fell swoop. This microorganism has the ability to ferment sugars into ethanol and produce hydrolytic enzymes in the same process however it has only been tested in labs in small scale experiments. Although preliminary experiments have proved successful the real application for large scale industrial production will need to be tested before it can be considered a viable alternative for fossil fuel resources.
The bulk of this research into consolidated bioprocessing comes from Dr. Michael Studer and his team of scientists and researchers out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Bern University of Applied Sciences. The primary focus of the team has been on the production of ethanol but alternative chemicals such as butanol can be synthesized from lactic acid and succinic acid. Their belief is that by diversifying the chemicals produced from the method a variety of beneficial fuel sources can be created using the biomass of organic plant materials.bioengineering, biofuels, genetics