“We’ve made bioprocessing faster, which will require less equipment and will reduce carbon footprint… potentially helping biofuels become more widespread.”
A team of scientists from London’s Imperial College have developed a biological technique that they say enhances the process of making everyday products and could lead to more environmentally friendly alternatives. The scientific institution’s Department of Chemical Engineering have said that products like fuel, plastic, and cosmetics which rely on fossil fuel for their production may soon be able to instead use materials that are created with a process that breaks down plant-based biomass 30-times faster than currently possible.
The new approach, Imperial scientists said, could overtake the form of “time consuming and expensive” bioprocessing that uses living cells or their components to make new products. A potentially radical development for the state of bio-based production, if the latest technique is adopted on an industrial scale then fossil fuel-related carbon emissions could drop by “80-100%”.
One of the lead chemical engineers from Imperial College London working on the project, Dr Alex Brogan, said he and colleagues modified the glucosidase enzyme that helps break down complex carbohydrates in biomass – such as cellulose from plant cells – into glucose that can then be fermented into the bio-based fuel, ethanol.
“We’ve made bioprocessing faster, which will require less equipment and will reduce carbon footprint. One major advantage of this will be increased biofuel production – potentially helping biofuels become more widespread as a result,” said Dr Brogan.
Explaining some of the science of the new bio-process, Imperial College (@imperialcollege) explained that they had created a variety of enzyme that works at high temperatures, potentially calling time on instable enzymes that typically stop working at temperatures higher than 70°C. To make it more robust, the chemical structure was altered to allow it to withstand heats of up to 137°C – a 95% increase. That increased stability also enables the enzyme to be able to be used in ionic liquids, exposure that also destroys enzymes.
This research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.
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