Researchers Speed Up Wood-to-Fuel ConversionOctober 30, 2013
Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have significantly shortened the process of turning wood chips and sawdust into biofuel with a new super enzyme, promising new profitability for the forestry and wood processing industries.
Like a tiny wood machine, the new super enzyme, which shoots holes into the wood surface with the help of oxygen bullets, scratches up the surface of the wood allowing other enzymes to gain access and break the hard surface down into sugar. The simplified sugar product can be fermented into ethanol.
Advanced biofuel developers are looking to woody trees instead of food crops as new sources of raw material for making bioethanol, especially now that the demand for paper is on the decline. But converting the woody biomass into ethanol fuel is a time-consuming process, which may last for several weeks, and has been an economic bottleneck for biofuel developers. With a new super enzyme, the process can be completed in hours.
After the discovery of the super enzyme in 2010, researchers needed to better understand how the molecule works to improve the use of the enzyme even more. NTNU biotechnology researcher Finn Lillelund Aachmann is using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology, which permits a detailed study of each nucleus of a molecule, to unveil a new understanding of the super enzyme.
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