"Currently ethanol is produced primarily from sugarcane or cornstarch, but much more biomass in the whole plant, including stems and leaves, can be converted to ethanol using clean technology," says Aida-Romero Garcia, one of the researchers on the study. The next step is to engineer the bacteria to produce the enzymes, known as cellulases, to break the stems and leaves down into the simple carbohydrates for fermentation.
Bacteria can not only produce alternative fuels, but could also aid in oil production by boosting output of existing wells. Michael McInerney and his colleagues at the University of Oklahoma will present research demonstrating the technical feasibility of using detergent-producing microorganisms to recover entrapped oil from oil reservoirs.
"Our approach is to use microorganisms that make detergent-like molecules (biosurfactants) to clean oil off of rock surfaces and mobilize oil stuck in small cavities. However, up till now, it is not clear whether microorganisms injected into an oil reservoir will be active and whether they will make enough biosurfactant to mobilize entrapped oil," says McInerney.
He and his colleagues were able to inoculate an oil reservoir with specific strains of bacteria and have these bacteria make biosurfactants in amounts needed for substantial oil recovery.
"We now know that the microorganisms will work as intended in the oil reservoir. The next important question is whether our approach will recover entrapped oil economically. We saw an increase in oil production after our test, but we need to measure oil production more precisely to be certain," says McInerney.