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Mushroom Waste as Biofuel to Substitute Petrol in Car Engines?

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The National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers have pioneered a biofuel production process to generate biofuel, biobutanol directly from the mushroom waste. The team published the research paper in the scientific journal Science Advances on 23 March 2018.

Scientists across the globe are relentlessly experimenting to find sustainable solutions for our ever-growing energy demands. Meanwhile, a group of engineers from NUS, led by Associate Professor He Jianzhong has made a breakthrough discovery in the biofuel production field.

In 2015, the NUS engineers detected a naturally occurring bacterium, Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum TG57 strain, isolated from waste generated after harvesting mushrooms. The team decided to culture the strain and examine its properties. Interestingly, TG57 can directly convert cellulose, a plant-based material, to biobutanol.

Prof He states, “In our study, we demonstrated a novel method of directly converting cellulose to biobutanol using the novel TG57 strain. This is a major breakthrough in metabolic engineering and exhibits a foundational milestone in the sustainable and cost-effective production of renewable biofuels and chemicals.”

Need for Natural Biofuel Production

Burning fossil fuels to meet our never-ending fuel requirement is leading to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. On the other side, biofuel production from food crop is comparatively an expensive method. Besides, the process utilizes the equivalent land, water, energy and other environmental resources as required in food production.

Mushroom Biofuel Production

From Left: Dr Li Tinggang, research fellow; Mr Zhang Chen, a PhD student; and Associate Professor He Jianzhong from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at NUS Source NUS

On the other hand, the unprocessed cellulosic materials such as plant biomass, agriculture, horticultural and organic waste are nontoxic sources of biofuel production. Moreover, these cellulosic materials are omnipresent, environment-friendly, and economically sustainable.

“The production of biofuels using non-food feedstocks can improve sustainability and reduce costs greatly”, added Prof He.

Out of the available options of biofuels, biobutanol terms to be an ideal alternative to petrol. Given that biobutanol has fairly high density, it can substitute the conventional fuel without any modification in the car engine.

However, the present methodology to produce biobutanol is bit expensive. The technique requires chemical pre-treatment in light of the lack of potent microbes that can convert cellulosic biomass into biofuels.

Innovative Biofuel Production Process

The research team has made a game-changing discovery in the sustainable biofuel production. Post-harvesting mushroom, the residual compost waste comprises of wheat straw and sawdust. Further, the microbes present in the waste are left to evolve naturally for more than two years. The fermentation process results in the birth of the unique TG57 strain. When the natural bacterium is fed cellulose, it simply digests it to produce biobutanol. The entire course requires no complicated pre-treatment or genetic modification of the microbes.

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