Scientists in India are experimenting with a method that could make biodiesel production a whole lot more efficient.
Instead of heating sunflower oil and methanol for several hours, researchers at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology are running the mixture over a bed of fungal spores. This article on the Wired Science web site says an enzyme produced by the fungi turns it into biodiesel… without spending energy to produce the fuel:
Typically, biodiesel is made by mixing methanol with lye and vegetable oil and then heating the brew for several hours. This links the methanol to the oils to produce energetic called esters. Unfortunately, heating the mixture is a huge waste of energy, and a major selling point of alternative fuels is efficiency. An enzyme called lipase can link link oil to methanol without any extra heating, but the pure protein is expensive.
Instead of purifying the protein to run this process, the scientists found the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae produced it on its own. So, they’ve turned that fungus into easily used pellets and are now well on the way to producing energy without spending energy… and that’s the whole idea, right?