A new microorganism has been created: it turns cardboard boxes into biodiesel

The current method of producing biodiesel is limited due to the unreliable availability of raw materials. Scientists have created a microorganism – a modified strain of the fungus Yarrowia lipolytic, capable of producing biodiesel precursors from lignocellulosic biomass. It is obtained from agricultural by-products, waste paper, and cardboard boxes.

Using biodiesel instead of fossil fuels will help combat climate change caused by greenhouse gases and reduce fine dust emissions. However, the current method of producing biodiesel by chemically treating vegetable oil or waste cooking oil (palm or soybean oil) is not always reliable. Sometimes there is not enough raw material, or it isn’t easy to obtain it.

Sun-Mi Lee, Ph.D., and her team at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) Clean Energy Research Center announced that they had created a new microorganism. It is capable of producing biodiesel precursors from lignocellulosic biomass. Recall that a precursor is a substance that participates in a reaction leading to the formation of a required compound, for example, biofuel.

Lignocellulosic biomass itself – the dry matter of plants – is formed as a by-product of agriculture and logging. A new microorganism, YSXID, a strain of the fungus Yarrowia lipolytic, uses xylose to achieve high-yield lipid production from lignocellulose. Yarrowia lipolytica is a type of yeast that belongs to the order Saccharomycetales.

YSXID produces biodiesel precursors during the metabolism of sugars in the lignocellulosic biomass that the fungus feeds on. Sugar in lignocellulosic biomass consists of 65–70% glucose and 30–35% xylose. While microorganisms that exist in nature are effective in producing diesel fuel precursors by glucose metabolism, they do not feed on xylose, limiting the raw material yield. A new microorganism that uses xylose removes these restrictions and allows much more raw materials to be produced for biofuels from more affordable products.

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