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Synthetics Breakthrough to Increase Biofuel Production by 50%

By Charles Kennedy | Sat, 12 October 2013 02:55 | 3

Biofuels are hardly worth making these days—but a new breakthrough in synthetics promises to increase biofuels production by 50%.

Researchers at the University of California (UCLA) have created a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that they say could lead to a 50% percent increase in the production of bio-fuels.

The result of the research could make it cheaper to produce biofuels from a variety of sources, especially biomass such as wood chips and grass.

Despite the government’s ethanol mandate, which sets a high volume on the amount of biofuel that must be blended with gasoline, US biofuel producers are still in desperate need of more help, which can only be truly fruitful with scientific advancement.

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The new pathway, called non-oxidative glycolysis (NOG), intends to replace the natural metabolic pathway known as glycolysis.

Glycolysis is currently used in bio-refineries to convert sugars derived from plant biomass into biofuels, but the loss of two carbon atoms for every six that are input is seen as a major gap in the efficiency of the process.

The new synthetic glycolytic pathway converts all six glucose carbon atoms into three molecules of acetyl-CoA without losing any as carbon dioxide.

"This pathway solved one of the most significant limitations in biofuel production and bio-refining: losing one-third of carbon from carbohydrate raw materials. This limitation was previously thought to be insurmountable because of the way glycolysis evolved," principal investigator on the research, James Liao said in a statement.

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No carbon would be wasted in the process and the 50% increase in yield could be a game-changer for the industry, according to Liao.

According to the research, the biggest cost savings could be for cellulosic ethanol derived from biomass. Sugar from cellulosic sources is much more expensive than sugar from corn or sugarcane, so there are greater benefits to getting more biofuel out of that sugar.

As always with new breakthroughs, the question is whether the process can be conducted at a commercial scale. As for now, that hasn’t been proven.

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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  • Alf Stevens on October 17 2013 said:
    Wow,this is certainly a game changer. So how does it get commercialised now?
    Alf
  • Francis Patrick on October 18 2013 said:
    At $100-$110/barrel for oil and ethanol is wholesaling at $1.75/gallon, ethanol is certainly cost competitive. Actually it's ethanol that is keeping the price of gasoline below $4/gallon in the States.
  • Richard Munt on October 20 2013 said:
    Re: Mr. Parker's cost comments. Oil at $100/barrel is $2.50/gallon (40 gallons/barrel, right?). So a gallon of oil (call it gasoline, for simplicity) is 43% more expensive than the ethanol. But Mr. Parker seems to ignore the fact that gasoline contains much more energy per gallon than does ethanol (perhaps 50-100% more, I don't know the exact number). Ethanol is no bargain.

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