Better Yeast for More Efficient Biofuel Production

An animated image that shows the process of biofuel production.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Fossil fuels are problematic for two reasons: they pollute the environment and they’re not sustainable. The former is a problem that we can’t fix since there’s no real way to make fossil fuels better for the environment. But the latter is something that we can address. We can replace fossil fuels entirely by using a more sustainable alternative, preferably one that doesn’t pollute the planet at all.

While biofuels aren’t completely carbon neutral, they are more sustainable since we can always grow more plants. The problem is, the yeast that we use to make biofuels (the same kind used by bakers and brewers for centuries) isn’t the most efficient biofuel producer. There is a whole category of plant sugars, called xylose, which neither yeast nor humans can break down. Basically, this means that we’re not getting as much biofuel as possible because there is as much as 50% leftover plant matter.

But a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center have managed to purposely evolve a strain of yeast that can eat xylose. This puts us one step closer to more efficient biofuel production. That’s a good thing, since biofuels have been a hard sell specifically because they aren’t as efficient as fossil fuels, both from a production and a fuel standpoint.

You generally need more plant matter than you do with petroleum, which is problem number one. Secondly, you don’t get as much energy usage out of it, so you have to sink more cost into production, which is then passed on to consumers. This is why people don’t buy cars that run on biofuels unless they’re really dedicated, not to mention, wealthier than most Americans. But more efficient biofuel production would help to reduce costs in the long run, and therefore make vehicles that use biofuels more appealing to consumers. Plus, it would help reduce our reliance on foreign oil. It’s a win-win situation.

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About DevonJ140
I am currently an Accounting Director living in New York City. I love reading and learning more about business, finance, tech, and current events.

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