Microbes fuel energy debate

January 22, 2009

Microbes may well be the answer to our global energy crisis. By fermenting biomass to produce biofuels, they offer a possible climate-friendly solution to the anticipated shortfall in fossil fuel supply. A review by Professor Arnold Demain from Drew University in New Jersey, USA, on how microbes could be used to salvage the energy crisis has just been published online Springer's Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology.

According to Professor Demain, the petroleum-based economy in the US is getting close to the end of its lifecycle. Global oil reserves and new petroleum discoveries will not be enough to meet the annual demand worldwide. It is therefore essential to anticipate and avoid any shortfall in future supply and to provide access to new bioenergy alternatives for the marketplace.

In the context of a strong global political and economical debate on the gradual substitution of petroleum by renewable alternatives such as biofuels, Demain reviews how microbes can help solve the energy problem, and focuses on the organisms that ferment lignocellulosic biomass to produce bioethanol, biobutanol, biodiesel and biohydrocarbons in particular. His review also highlights how the use of these biofuels would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plants that produce the biomass remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of their growth and normal metabolism.

Demain also highlights a number of important commercial developments, including the establishment of biotechnology companies in the biofuel sector since 2006, either alone or with companies of the petroleum and chemical industries. In addition, there have been a number of U.S. Government initiatives pushing for and backing the development of biofuels.

Demain concludes that: "What remains is a major effort and challenge to biochemical engineering at the many new plants being built for biofuel production. The new processes have to be scaled up and carried out in a cost-effective way. The future of biofuels looks very bright…the best is yet to come."

Source: Springer

Explore further: Study shows deepwater oil plume in Gulf degraded by microbes

Related Stories

Research points to methods for recovering petroleum

October 15, 2008

Miles below us, deep within Earth's crust, life is astir. Organisms there are not the large creatures typically envisioned when thinking of life. Instead, thriving there are microbes, the smallest and oldest form of life ...

Oil-eating microbes give clue to ancient energy source

September 9, 2008

Microbes that break down oil and petroleum are more diverse than we thought, suggesting hydrocarbons were used as an energy source early in Earth's history, scientists heard today at the Society for General Microbiology's ...

New insights into costly destruction of subsurface petroleum

September 25, 2006

Scientists are reporting an advance toward understanding and possibly combating a natural process that destroys billions of dollars worth of subsurface petroleum. Called biodegradation, it occurs as bacteria and other microbes ...

Microbes Can Produce Electrical Nanowires

June 23, 2005

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered a tiny biological structure that is highly electrically conductive. This breakthrough helps describe how microorganisms can clean up groundwater and produce ...

Recommended for you

How a fungus inhibits the immune system of plants

October 27, 2016

A newly discovered protein from a fungus is able to suppress the innate immune system of plants. This has been reported by research teams from Cologne and Würzburg in the journal Nature Communications.

A composite thread that varies in rigidity

October 27, 2016

EPFL scientists have developed a new type of composite thread that varies in stiffness depending on its temperature. Applications range from multifunctional robots to knitted casts, and even tunable medical devices.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.