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Finnish enzymes create bioethanol from harvest waste

Finnish enzymes create bioethanol from harvest waste

Publish date: 2013-03-07

DISCO project, led by VTT Technical Centre of Finland has developed powerful enzymes, which are able to accelerate process of plant biomass conversion into sugar monomers and then into products such as bioethanol. Project results in lignin-tolerant enzymes and enzyme cocktails processing agricultural harvest waste.

Tags: biotechnology , finland , agriculture

The raw materials, studied in the project, were mainly plant biomass, which are rich in lignocellulose, for instance, spruce, straw, corn cob and wheat bran. In Finland, agricultural wastes are produced in abundance, and represent a good option for conversion into bioethanol

The densely compacted and complex structure of lignocellulose, whilst making plants and trees tough, also makes it very resistant to degradation and hydrolysis mechanisms. It must be broken down into much simpler sugar molecules, which can then be fermented into bioethanol.

Lignocellulose is composed of carbohydrates polymers - cellulose and hemicellulose - and aromatic polymer – lignin. Sugars necessary for fermentation are trapped inside lignocellulose because of linkage between polysaccharides and lignin via ester bonds. To extract the fermentable sugars, the cellulose and hemicellulose must be disconnected from lignin.

The DISCO project found novel enzymes which can perform both the breakdown and fermentation steps more efficiently than at present, using completely new modes of action. Agricultural harvest wastes contain large amount of lignocellulose. With the new types of cellulases and hemicellulases, the enzymatic hydrolysis is performed in order to reduce the size of the feedstock and to open up the plant structure. Then, extraction and fermentation to bioethanol can be performed. The enzymes are also recyclable, so much increases efficiency in the process.

The Dutch company Dyadic is currently commercializing the enzymes developed in the project. They are presented on the company official website.

What are the benefits of bioethanol?

Firstly, it comes from renewable source of energy. Another one is a decrease of greenhouse gas emission. Release of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide can be greatly reduced, even by blending bioethanol in small portion with petrol without replacing the older engines installation. In addition, rural economy would receive a boost from growing necessary crops.

Sources:

http://www.vtt.fi/news/2013/08012012_disco.jsp

http://www.disco-project.eu/index.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lignocellulosic_biomass

http://dyadic.com/biofuels/

http://www.esru.strath.ac.uk/EandE/Web_sites/02-03/biofuels/what_bioethanol.htm

by Bartłomiej Kołaczkowski            

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