By Aaron Rowe EmailAugust 20, 2007 | 1:01:32 PMCategories:
Biotechnology, Conference, Energy, Environment
Biodiesel Scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology have
found a much better way to make biodiesel. Their new method could lower
the cost and increase the energy efficiency of fuel production.
Instead of mixing the ingredients and heating them for hours, the
chemical engineers pass sunflower oil and methanol through a bed of
pellets made from fungal spores. An enzyme produced by the fungus does
the work -- making biodiesel with impressive efficiency.
Last Monday, Ravichandra Potumarthi showed off his work during a poster
session at the International Conference on Bioengineering and
Nanotechnology. After returning to his lab in Hyderabad, he was able to
send out some pictures of his experimental reactor (shown on right) and
the fungal pellets.
Typically, biodiesel is made by mixing methanol with lye and vegetable
oil and then heating the brew for several hours. This bonds the methanol
to the oils to produce energetic molecules called esters. Unfortunately,
heating the mixture is a huge waste of energy, and a major selling point
of alternative fuels is efficiency. An enzyme called lipase can link
link oil to methanol without any extra heating, but the pure protein is
Potumarthi has a simple solution. Why bother purifying the lipase? It
would be easier to just find an organism that produces plenty of the
enzyme and squish it into pellets. In this case, the fungus Metarhizium
anisopliae does the trick.
Recently, several huge research centers have sprung up to develop better
ways to make biofuels. Considering that a handful of chemical engineers
can accomplish so much on what appears to be a shoestring budget, the
future of alternative fuels looks pretty good -- but maybe a bit slimy.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/