Corn ethanol is largely a boondoggle for large agri-businesses like Archer-Daniels Midland, and aside from the fact that it is domestically produced, the environmental benefits are debatable at best. The question of food or fuel is a whole other question. Ethanol produced from cellulose has the potential produce far greater yields, and can use non-food biomass as feed-stocks. The key to breaking down the cellulose into individual sugar molecules seems to be enzymes.

A research team at the University of Rochester, has been doing genetic sequencing of bacteria that can break down cellulose to determine what the triggering mechanism is for producing the enzymes that can split the cellulose. More than that the bacteria they are studying can also ferment the sugars and directly produce ethanol. This has the potential for dramatically simplifying the process, by going directly from the biomass to ethanol. They are now working on engineering the C. thermocellum bacteria to optimize the production of the enzymes needed to produce ethanol from different feed-stocks like corn stalks and wood chips. Find out more at the Read link.

[Source: University of Rochester]

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