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Using Enzymes From Termites to Make Biofuel From Plants and Wood Waste

2984239084_e3c99e0576.jpg A U.S. company has come up with a new way of producing biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks, such as agricultural waste: Using enzymes from the guts of termites to more efficiently produce ethanol. The startup company, ZeaChem, says using the enzymes from the wood-eating insects has achieved ethanol yields in the laboratory 35 percent higher than other producers of cellulosic ethanol, according to MIT Technology Review. ZeaChem uses acid to break the cellulose into sugars, but instead of fermenting the sugars into ethanol using yeast — as is customarily done — the company feeds the sugars to an acetogen bacteria found in termites. The bacteria turns the sugars into acetic acid, which produces ethanol when combined with hydrogen. “It’s not the obvious, direct route, but there is a high yield potential,” said an official from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. ZeaChem’s CEO said the company has produced 135 gallons of ethanol per ton of cellulosic feedstock.

This piece originally appeared on Yale Environment 360.

Photo Credit: bgv23 via Flickr, Creative Commons License

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