A new process that eliminates fossil fuels completely from the biodiesel equation could make the green fuel even more sustainable. Michigan State University reports Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist, has found a way that uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and then use that green fuel to replace methanol to help brew the biodiesel.
“With a saturated glycerol market, traditional approaches see producers pay hefty fees to have toxic wastewater hauled off to treatment plants,” she said. “By cleaning the water with microbes on-site, we’ve come up with a way to allow producers to generate bioethanol, which replaces petrochemical methanol. At the same time, they are taking care of their hazardous waste problem.”
The results, which appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, show that the key to Reguera’s platform is her patented adaptive-engineered bacteria – Geobacter sulfurreducens.
Geobacter are naturally occurring microbes that have proved promising in cleaning up nuclear waste as well in improving other biofuel processes. Much of Reguera’s research with these bacteria focuses on engineering their conductive pili or nanowires. These hair-like appendages are the managers of electrical activity during a cleanup and biofuel production.
This promising process is already catching the attention of economic developers, who are working with a Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization grant to scale up the effort.