S&T Microbiologist Patents Process that Could Improve Biofuel Production
(Missouri University of Science & Technology) Biofuel production can be an expensive process that requires considerable use of fossil fuels, but a Missouri University of Science and Technology microbiologist’s patented process could reduce the cost and the reliance on fossil fuels, while streamlining the process.
The process involves a microbe that thrives in extreme conditions.
Dr. Melanie Mormile, a professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T, has found a particular bacterium, called “Halanaerobium hydrogeniformans,” that can be used to streamline biofuel production. Because the bacterium thrives in high-alkaline, high-salt conditions, it can eliminate the need to neutralize the pH of the biomass, a step required in the alkali treatment of biomass for production of hydrogen fuel and other biofuels. Mormile and her fellow researchers have been awarded two patents for developing a biofuel production process that uses the bacterium.
“In the development of biofuels, a lot of energy is required to break down the biomass to the point where bacteria can ferment it to form ethanol or, in our case, hydrogen and other useful products,” Mormile says.
The conventional method of biofuel production involves the steam blasting of switchgrass and straw to separate lignin, an unnecessary byproduct, from the cellulose that is needed to create the biofuel. The process requires electricity, produced by either coal or natural gas, to generate the steam. That process releases considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, while remaining dependent on fossil fuels. The degradation of the lignin produces compounds that inhibit fermentation and lead to overall low hydrogen yields.
Treating the switchgrass and straw with an alkaline substance removes the lignin with limited formation of the harmful compounds, but the resulting slurry is highly alkaline and very salty. Before the discovery of Halanaerobium hydrogeniformans, a neutralization step was required before the fermentation process could begin. Using Mormile’s bacterium, that step can be eliminated. READ MORE