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Bacteria that makes bio-diesel production more sustainable

Posted on May 22 2014 | IANS

Washington, May 22 : Even as the search for alternative energy sources in the world escalates, researchers have discovered that efficient use of some microbes can make bio-diesel plants more productive by eliminating the creation of hazardous wastes.

The bacteria, Geobacter sulfurreducens, can also help remove the dependence on fossil fuel from the production process of bio-diesel plants, the study showed.

Geobacter are naturally occurring microbes that have proved promising in cleaning up nuclear waste as well as in improving other bio-fuel processes.

"By cleaning the water with microbes on-site, we have come up with a way to allow producers to generate bio-ethanol that replaces petrochemical methanol," said Gemma Reguera, a microbiologist at Michigan State University in the US.

At the same time, they are taking care of their hazardous waste problem, she noted.

The platform that uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater will allow producers to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process, Reguera explained.

To understand how this works, the researchers first evolved Geobacter to withstand increasing amounts of toxic glycerol.

Next, the team searched for partner bacteria that could ferment it into ethanol while generating byproducts that 'fed' the Geobacter.

"Together, the bacteria's appetite for the toxic byproducts is inexhaustible," said the study that appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

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