August 24, 2009

Scientists hike butanol biofuel production

Ohio State University engineers say they have found a way to double production of the biofuel butanol, which might someday replace gasoline in automobiles.

The OSU researchers said their process improves on the conventional method for brewing butanol in a bacterial fermentation tank.

Normally, bacteria could only produce a certain amount of butanol -- perhaps 15 grams of the chemical for every liter of water in the tank -- before the tank would become too toxic for the bacteria to survive, said Professor Shang-Tian Yang, who led the research.

But Yang and his colleagues said they developed a mutant strain of the bacterium Clostridium beijerinckii in a bioreactor containing bundles of polyester fibers. In that environment, the mutant bacteria produced up to 30 grams of butanol per liter.

Butanol is mainly used as a solvent, or in industrial processes that make other chemicals. But experts believe once developed as a fuel, butanol could potentially be used in conventional automobiles in place of gasoline.

The engineers said they are applying for a patent on the mutant bacterium and the butanol production methodology, and will work with industry to develop the technology.

The researchers reported their results last week in Washington during a meeting of the American Chemical Society.