During a two-year period, Doran-Peterson and Hawkins grew the yeast in increasingly inhospitable environments. The end result was a strain of yeast capable of producing ethanol in fermentations of pretreated wood containing as much as 17.5 percent solid biomass. Previously, researchers were only able to produce ethanol in the presence of 5 to 8 percent solids. Studies at 12 percent solids showed a substantial decrease in ethanol production.
This is important, said Doran-Peterson, because the greater the percentage of solids in wood, the more ethanol that can be produced. However, a high percentage of solids also places stress on the yeast.
"Couple that stress with the increase in toxic compounds, and the fermentation usually does not proceed very well," she said.
Pine is an ideal substrate for biofuels not only because of its high sugar content, but also because of its sustainability. While pine plantations account for only 15 percent of Georgia's trees, they provide 50 percent of harvested timber, according to Dale Greene, professor of forest operations in UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. The loblolly pine that Doran-Peterson and Hawkins used for their research is among the fastest growing trees in the American South.
"We're talking about using forestry residues, waste and unsalable timber," said Peterson, "Alternatively, pine forests are managed for timber and paper manufacturing, so there is an existing infrastructure to handle tree-farming, harvest and transportation for processing.
"The basic idea is that we're trying to get the yeast to make as much ethanol as it can, as fast as it can, while minimizing costs associated with cleaning or washing the pretreated pine. With our process, no additional clean-up steps are required before the pine is fermented," she said.
|Contact: Joy Doran-Peterson|
University of Georgia