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MaxiFuels Project Opens: Ethanol, Hydrogen and Methane from Cellulosic Biomass

Purdue Research Foundation Seeks Partners for Cellulosic Ethanol Yeast

Purdue Research Foundation issued a formal call for proposals from companies interested in licensing and commercializing recombinant yeasts capable of more effectively producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass.

During the 1980s and 1990s, researchers at Purdue University’s Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, or LORRE, altered the genetic structure of Saccharomyces yeast to enable the conversion of the two major sugars found in cellulosic materials—glucose and xylose—into ethanol.

Purdue’s genetically altered yeast allows about 40% more ethanol to be made from sugars derived from agricultural residues, such as corn stalks and wheat straw, compared with wild-type yeasts. The first, non-exclusive license for the yeast was issued to the Canadian cellulosic ethanol company Iogen Corp. in 2004.

We have confirmed that Purdue’s recombinant glucose- and xylose-fermenting yeast is the most effective microorganism available for the production of ethanol from cellulosic materials. The ethanol yield and productivity from the Purdue yeast in our plant matches that obtained by Dr. Ho's group in the lab at Purdue. The Purdue yeast is also easy to work with and is favored by our plant operators because of this.

—Jeffrey S. Tolan, senior research scientist for Iogen, in 2004

The yeast has been demonstrated to be very well-adapted to industrial applications. In addition to dramatically increasing the production of ethanol, the use of cellulosic materials can open up new markets for crop residues such as corn stover and new crops, such as switch grass, which can be grown on marginal lands.

—Joseph Hornett, senior vice president and COO of Purdue Research Foundation

The request for proposals (RFP) seeks business partners that can develop and market the existing yeasts as well as develop new and improved derivatives from the existing yeasts for value-added applications.



James White

I don't know if the following article is totally true, but it is certainly conceivable that genetically modifying bacteria could have some profoundly negative consequences.

"One powerful story illustrates the potential dangers of genetic engineering especially well. Pursuing a method to efficiently convert crop wastes to fuel alcohol, scientists altered the bacterium Klebsiella planticola. The experiment was successful, as the genetically engineered bacteria were able to convert wood chips and corn stalks into ethanol plus a compost-like waste product.

The scientists were ready to put the leftover waste product onto fields as fertilizer, when a microbiologist expressed interest in doing further experimentation. She found that plants grown in soil fertilized by the waste product died. After further research the microbiologist found the genetically engineered bacteria had crowded out fungi which are essential in the ability of plants to use nutrients in the soil. Furthermore, the bacteria continued to produce alcohol, which was deadly for the plants. If the genetically altered bacteria had spread into the environment, there could have been impacts to plant life all over the world. It would have been virtually impossible to 'recall' the altered Klebsiella planticola, which in its unaltered state is a common soil microbe."

This does not mean that all genetic engineering is bad, but I believe it should be done very very carefully.


I agree James. In our persuit of profit we should be careful we do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs...namely, our agriculture, environment and economies.
It would be one thing to produce more transportation fuel, but to ruin worldwide agriculture would be totally foolish. What an irony, to depend on cellulosic ethanol, only to ruin all the crops with an altered bacteria.

John Schreiber

Wow! There is no free lunch? What was the proposed use of the left over biomass, after finding it was not safe for plants?

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