Here's TR on a cellulosic ethanol breakthrough:
Mascoma, a cellulosic biofuels company based in Lebanon, NH, reports significant advances in its goal of simplifying the cellulosic ethanol process by skipping the use of costly enzymes, which could potentially reduce cellulosic ethanol's production costs by 20 to 30 percent.[...]
Mascoma's strategy, called consolidated bioprocessing, aims to combine the multiple steps of ethanol production into one, using genetically engineered superbugs that perform the multiple steps involved in making cellulosic ethanol. The company reports a series of advances that it says brings it "substantially closer to commercialization." Mascoma announced the results recently at the 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, in San Francisco.
Existing technology to produce ethanol from cellulosic sources involves a multistep process: plant material such as paper pulp and switchgrass are first pretreated, to separate cellulose from the rest of the plant matter. Cellulose is then mixed with enzymes that break it down into sugars. Yeast then takes over to ferment the sugars into ethanol.
As a less costly alternative, Mascoma researchers are engineering microbes to combine the last two steps of the process: breaking down cellulose, and converting sugars into ethanol. They say that if they can get microorganisms to make ethanol at sufficiently high rates, they can reduce the amount of expensive enzymes needed to break down cellulose, which can normally take up half of ethanol's production costs.
The company is exploring three potential organisms for ethanol production: two types of bacteria, and one yeast strain. C. thermocellum and T. saccharolyticum are thermophilic bacteria, able to withstand high temperatures such as those experienced in reactors. Researchers have been interested in both bacterial strains for years due to their natural ability to both convert cellulose into sugar and ferment sugar into ethanol.
The company has begun to test all three engineered microbes at a pilot plant in Rome, NY, and it plans to have a commercial scale-up by 2010.
The sprawled growth of palm oil is controversial. Still, here's a recent bit worth mentioning:
A Malaysian conglomerate said Tuesday it has sequenced the genome for the oil palm, a development that will allow it to produce new varieties that will double yields of the edible oil.
Sime Darby, the world's largest listed palm oil producer, said it had achieved the breakthrough in a project with biotech firm Synamatix which had analysed 93.8 percent of the plant's genome. "With this breakthrough, Sime
Darby is ready to lead and change the future of the oil palm industry," Sime Darby Plantations managing director Azhar Abdul Hamid told a press conference.
"In 2008, Sime Darby had an oil yield of about 5.0 metric tons per hectare for Malaysia and with this we will be able to double oil yield to 10 to 12 metric tons of palm oil," he added. Azhar said that within 10 years, 15 percent of its palm oil estates would be replanted with the improved varieties and that all estates would have the new variety within 30 years.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said the development would lead to price stability and support the alternative fuel industry, which has faltered due to uncertain supply as the price of the commodity has plunged last year.
"It will be possible for us to raise yields so high, food supply needs will never be an issue again and we will be able to feed the need for alternative fuels as well with increased palm oil production," he said.