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New source for biofuels discovered
Date:4/23/2008

AUSTIN, TexasA newly created microbe produces cellulose that can be turned into ethanol and other biofuels, report scientists from The University of Texas at Austin who say the microbe could provide a significant portion of the nations transportation fuel if production can be scaled up.

Along with cellulose, the cyanobacteria developed by Professor R. Malcolm Brown Jr. and Dr. David Nobles Jr. secrete glucose and sucrose. These simple sugars are the major sources used to produce ethanol.

The cyanobacterium is potentially a very inexpensive source for sugars to use for ethanol and designer fuels, says Nobles, a research associate in the Section of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

Brown and Nobles say their cyanobacteria can be grown in production facilities on non-agricultural lands using salty water unsuitable for human consumption or crops.

Other key findings include:

  • The new cyanobacteria use sunlight as an energy source to produce and excrete sugars and cellulose
  • Glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without harming or destroying the cyanobacteria (harvesting cellulose and sugars from true algae or crops, like corn and sugarcane, requires killing the organisms and using enzymes and mechanical methods to extract the sugars)
  • Cyanobacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen can be grown without petroleum-based fertilizer input

They recently published their research in the journal Cellulose.

Nobles made the new cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) by giving them a set of cellulose-making genes from a non-photosynthetic vinegar bacterium, Acetobacter xylinum, well known as a prolific cellulose producer.

The new cyanobacteria produce a relatively pure, gel-like form of cellulose that can be broken down easily into glucose.

The problem with cellulose harvested from plants is t
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Contact: Lee Clippard
lclippard@mail.utexas.edu
512-232-0675
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert  

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