Researchers at Iowa State University are focused on developing bio-oil tolerant microbes, which may aid in biofuel production.
As cornstalk and sawdust biomass is rapidly heated in an anaerobic environment, a thermochemical process called pyrolysis, a bio-oil is produced. E. coli and C. reinhardtii microbes are capable of breaking the bio-oil into sugar and lipid products, which can be used in biofuels production. The issue with this biochemical process is microbes cannot tolerate the harsh conditions of bio-oil.
Through directed evolution, an ISU research team led by Laura Jarboe is working to develop bio-oil tolerant microbes. To do this, microbes are grown in increasing concentrations of bio-oil, which allows only the tolerant microbes to reproduce. Ideally, the adapted microbes will generate a new breed, suited for use in the biofuels industry.
With the hybrid process, combining thermochemical and biochemical paths, the research can help create a renewable fuel that is fast, cheap, and doesn’t depend on food crops as a source of biomass.
The research is supported by a three-year $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a three-year $315,020 grant from the Iowa Energy Center.