A team of scientists has developed a groundbreaking way to way to produce cheap and clean fuel from waste products such as orange peels and newspapers,to power the world’s vehicles.
The team was lead by University of Central Florida professor Henry Daniell.
His approach is greener and less expensive than the current methods available to run vehicles on cleaner fuel – and his goal is to relegate gasoline to a secondary fuel.
Daniell’s breakthrough can be applied to several non-food products throughout the United States,including sugarcane,switchgrass and straw.
“This could be a turning point where vehicles could use this fuel as the norm for protecting our air and environment for future generations,” he said.
Daniell’s technique – developed with US Department of Agriculture funding – uses plant-derived enzyme cocktails to break down orange peels and other waste materials into sugar,which is then fermented into ethanol.
Corn starch now is fermented and converted into ethanol. But ethanol derived from corn produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline does.
Ethanol created using Daniell’s approach produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or electricity.
There’s also an abundance of waste products that could be used without reducing the world’s food supply or driving up food prices.
“In Florida alone,discarded orange peels could create about 200 million gallons of ethanol each year,” Daniell said.
More research is needed before Daniell’s findings can move from his laboratory to the market.
But other scientists conducting research in biofuels describe the early results as promising.
“Dr. Henry Daniell’s team’s success in producing a combination of several cell wall degrading enzymes in plants using chloroplast transgenesis is a great achievement,” said Mariam Sticklen,a professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University.
Depending on the waste product used,a specific combination or “cocktail” of more than 10 enzymes is needed to change the biomass into sugar and eventually ethanol.
Orange peels need more of the pectinase enzyme,while wood waste requires more of the xylanase enzyme.
All of the enzymes Daniell’s team uses are found in nature,created by a range of microbial species,including bacteria and fungi.
Daniell’s team cloned genes from wood-rotting fungi or bacteria and produced enzymes in tobacco plants.
“Producing these enzymes in tobacco instead of manufacturing synthetic versions could reduce the cost of production by a thousand times,which should significantly reduce the cost of making ethanol,” Daniell said.