National University of Singapore (NUS) engineers have recently discovered that the bacteria Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum TG57 can convert cellulose to biobutanol when isolated from the waste that is created when farmers gather mushrooms.
He Jianzhong from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering first discovered the novel TG57 strain in 2015. The strain was then further tested and examined.
Professor He said, “The production of biofuels using non-food feedstocks can improve sustainability and reduce costs greatly. In our study, we demonstrated a novel method of directly converting cellulose to biobutanol using the novel TG57 strain. This is a major breakthrough in metabolic engineering and exhibits a foundational milestone in the sustainable and cost-effective production of renewable biofuels and chemicals."
Biofuels are made from unprocessed cellulosic materials, like plant biomass and organic waste, that come from food crops. Researchers say that biofuels could meet the world’s energy demand without harmful effects on the environment. Cellulosic materials are common, cheap and environmentally friendly. However, biofuel production is very expensive and can take land, water and energy away from the food production.
Biobutanol has a lot of promise in replacing oil. The product has high energy density and many other useful qualities that are better than oil. It can even completely replace gasoline in cars without a major overhaul for cars and gas stations.
So what is keeping biobutanol from being released everywhere? The keys to the commercial production of the material are potent microbes that can convert cellulosic biomass into biofuels, the production of which is currently expensive and bad for the environment. That is where the NUS team steps in.
The new technique could bring biofuel production to the forefront of energy sources. Mushroom compost is generated naturally by mushroom farming. The microorganisms within the waste evolve naturally and will create the TG57 strain within two years of fermentation.
Fermentation is easy and doesn’t require any pre-treatment or modification. By adding cellulose, the bacterium digests it and produces butanol.
The team is now focusing on optimizing the performance of TG57 strain. They want to engineer it so it can produce even more biobutanol.
The paper on this research was published in Science Advances.