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Scientists Engineer Sugarcane to Produce Biodiesel
(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/Laboratory Equipment) A multi-institutional team led by the University of Illinois have proven sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production. Surprisingly, the modified sugarcane plants also produced more sugar, which could be used for ethanol production.
The dual-purpose bioenergy crops are predicted to be more than five times more profitable per acre than soybeans and two times more profitable than corn. More importantly, sugarcane can be grown on marginal land in the Gulf Coast region that does not support good corn or soybean yields.
"Instead of fields of oil pumps, we envision fields of green plants sustainably producing biofuel in perpetuity on our nation's soil, particularly marginal soil that is not well suited to food production," said Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences. Long leads the research project Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS) that has pioneered this work at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.
Published in Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology
, this paper analyzes the project's first genetically modified sugarcane varieties. Using a juicer, the researchers extracted about 90 percent of the sugar and 60 percent of the oil from the plant; the juice was fermented to produce ethanol and later treated with organic solvents to recover the oil. The team has patented the method used to separate the oil and sugar.
To date, PETROSS has engineered sugarcane with 13 percent oil, 8 percent of which is the oil that can be converted into biodiesel. According to the project's economic analyses, plants with just 5 percent oil would produce an extra 123 gallons of biodiesel per acre than soybeans and 350 more gallons of ethanol per acre than corn. READ MORE
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(Genetic Literacy Project) Abstract
(Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology)