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Novel bacterium produces butanol directly from cellulose

28 August 2011

Tulane University scientists have identified a novel bacterial strain, dubbed “TU-103,” that produces butanol directly from cellulose.

Researchers David Mullin’s lab in Tulane’s Department of Cell and Molecular Biology identified TU-103 in animal droppings, cultivated it and developed a method for using it to produce butanol. A patent is pending on the process.

Most important about this discovery is TU-103’s ability to produce butanol directly from cellulose.

—David Mullin

Mullin said that TU-103 is the only known butanol-producing clostridial strain that can grow and produce butanol in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. Having to produce butanol in an anaerobic space increases the costs of production.

(Researchers from the Tokyo University of Agriculture earlier this year reported in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology on butanol production from crystalline cellulose by co-cultured Clostridium thermocellum and Clostridium saccharoperbutylacetonicum N1-4. )

The work was funded in part through a grant the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded to the coalition of six Louisiana universities that comprise the Clean Power and Energy Research Consortium.

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Crystalline cellulose and nano-crystalline cellulose is still costly to extract from cellulosic bio-mass. It is much better to use it to re-enforce plastics to make lighter vehicles instead of using it to produce butanol for our fuel guzzlers.

right, this liquid fuel from biomass obsession is getting nowhere, cellulosic fuels require way too complicated process with terrible energy balance. The only way to use biomass efficiently is methanisation, simple, cheap efficient and yielding ultra clean fuel. but nobody want to hear about it

Bacteria that directly convert cellulose to butanol might look as a panacea since it bypass the sugar transformation process, but in practice it is difficult to work with bacteria, processing is slow yield is low and they are fast poisoned by the butanol they produce. I very doubt that this kind of approach can be economically be scaled.

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