Trash today, ethanol tomorrow

March 11th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, March 11 (IANS) University of Maryland researchers have developed a process that may convert all kinds of plant products, from leftover brewer’s mash to paper trash, into ethanol and other bio-fuel alternatives to petrol. The so-called Zymetis process, when fully operational, could potentially lead to the annual production of 75 billion gallons (284 billion litres) of carbon-neutral ethanol.

The process, developed by Steve Hutcheson and Ron Weiner, “makes affordable ethanol production a reality… from waste materials, which benefits everyone and supports the green-friendly goal of carbon-neutrality,” Sciencedaily quoted a university spokesman as saying.

Cellulosic bio-fuels can be made from non-grain plant sources such as waste paper, brewery by-products, leftover agriculture products, including straw, corncobs and husks, and energy crops such as switch grass.

The secret of the Zymetis process is a Chesapeake Bay marsh grass bacterium, S. degradans. Hutcheson found that the bacterium has an enzyme that could quickly break down plant materials into sugar, which can then be converted to bio-fuel.

Zymetis researchers were unable to isolate the Bay bacterium again in nature, but they discovered how to synthesise the enzyme in their own laboratories.

The result was Ethazyme, which degrades the tough cell walls of cellulosic materials and breaks down the entire plant material into bio-fuel-ready sugars in one step, at a significantly lower cost and with fewer caustic chemicals than current methods.

Hutcheson projects a $5 billion enzyme market for bio-fuels. The energy bill passed by the US Senate in December mandates oil companies to blend in 21 billion gallons (79.5 billion litres) of cellulosic ethanol with their petrol by 2022.

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