ATHENS, GA – Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a “super strain” of yeast that can efficiently ferment ethanol from pretreated pine—one of the most common tree species. Their research could help biofuels replace gasoline as a transportation fuel.
“Woody biomass such as pine . . is a notoriously difficult material for fermentations,” said Joy Doran-Peterson, associate professor of microbiology in the university's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
“The big plus for softwoods, including pine, is that they have a lot of sugar that yeast can use,” she said. Yeast is already used in ethanol production from corn and sugarcane. "Our process increases the amount of ethanol that can be obtained from pine,” says Doran-Peterson. A video outlining the pine to ethanol research is posted online.
Before the pinewood is fermented it is pre-treated with heat and chemicals, opening the wood so enzymes break the cellulose into sugars. Sugars are easily converted by the yeast to ethanol. The university's breakthrough compounds produced during pretreatment tend to kill even the hardiest industrial strains of yeast, making ethanol production difficult.
Production-ready technologies for conversion of wood biomass to transportation fuel are in development on multiple fronts. Funded by federal and state grants, some are nearing market introduction, including a bioengineered loblolly pin project at the University of Florida. Both Ontario Province and the State of Washington have sponsored wood to jet fuel projects. And Mississippi has funded the development of a wood to transportation fuel project with tech firm KiOR.
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