Scientists at the Forest Biotechnology Group of the NC State University have recently published the results of their work on biofuel in the Plant Biotechnology Journal. Thus, it seems possible to create fuel from grasses and woody plants. According to Dr. Li Quanzi, the most important obstacle in the creation of sustainable and economic biofuel from plants is the fact that plant cell walls resist the decomposition of plant ingredients into biofuels.
The cell walls are made up of cellulose and hemicellulose, which are “covered” with lignin. This substance contributes to the strength of the wood but also interferes with the production of biofuel. Thus, in order to make fuel from wood, it is mandatory to remove the lignin and convert cellulose into ethanol. Conventional methods are quite costly, as they require expensive preprocessing. Thereafter, enzymes are used to extract sugars, which is then fermented to produce ethanol. Research team of Quanzi Dr. Li has therefore focused on a way to simplify this process.
Biotechnology researchers at NC State have found a way to modify the structure of cell walls to reduce the amount of lignin in them and change its composition. They have changed the steps involved in the formation of hemicellulose and, therefore, the link between lignin and cellulose has been disrupted. The production of the biofuel speeds up, thanks to the introduction of enzymes that degrade plants cell walls. However, this degradation is only activated at high temperatures, used in the production of biofuel. The reduction in the lignin through genetic engineering affects the growth of plants but plants developed by the team of Dr. Li Quanzi have the ability to grow normally despite reduced lignin.
This scientific discovery is very encouraging! We appreciate the work of these researchers that continue to push the boundaries of science to develop new alternative renewable energy sources. In any case, we hope that this study will accelerate the transition to more cost effective biofuels. Do you think that we are at the verge of major changes in terms of sustainable development?