Scientists in Germany have engineered the common industrial yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to ferment the sugars pentose (C5) and hexose (C6) from biomass feedstock to create ethanol and butanol. Translation: cellulosic ethanol may be one step closer to being more than the green automotive buzzword of 2008 or, worse, one of the biggest losers of 2009.

Bakers' yeast-S. cerevisiae-is already used in the beverage industry to convert hexose sugars like glucose into ethanol. By transferring genes from bacteria that naturally break down pentose, German scientists Dr. Christian Weber, Prof. Eckhard Boles and Dr. Gunter Festel have engineered S. cerevisiae to successfully ferment pentose and hexose sugars, thereby providing a higher yield of ethanol for the same amount of feedstock. The yeast is being further modified to produce butanol instead of ethanol.

The image of biofuels has faded substantially compared to its glory days just a few short years ago. But that didn't stop Ferrari from winning a Formula One race with cellulosic ethanol or the Renewable Fuels Association from naming the first decade of the 21st century The Ethanol Decade. It's a little too early to tell for sure, but maybe cellulosic ethanol is making a comeback in 2010.

[Source: Green Car Congress]

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