German scientists say they have discovered a way to significantly speed up the process of making fuel from biomass, which includes non-food plant material such as wood or grass. Researchers have discovered that monooxygenases, enzymes already widely used to make bioplastics and biofuel -- a clean-burning fuel, or ethanol, made from agricultural waste instead of petroleum -- work significantly faster and more efficiently when exposed to sunlight. The enzymes break down biomass to release sugars from plant fibers which are then fermented into ethanol. But without sunlight, the process takes a long time. "They've [the enzymes] been surprisingly slow," Claus Felby, a professor from University of Copenhagen, told The Christian Science Monitor in an interview.
ROME – In a world aiming to shift to greener energy, could slugs, ants and even pandas help show the way? Scientists believe the animals' unique ability to break down tough plant material, including bamboo, could provide clues to ramping up production of plant-based biofuels, one substitute for the fossil fuels that drive global warming. Researchers at Aarhus University, in Denmark, are searching for special enzymes and microorganisms that the animals use to break down dry plant material, such as wood, crop residue and grass. Biologist Alberto Scoma got the idea while gazing at the panda enclosure at a Belgium zoo and wondering how such a big animal managed to process enough bamboo to survive on it. Now he has teamed up with four other scientists for a three-year project, starting this year, to look at the digestive systems of not just pandas but also Portuguese slugs and leaf-cutter ants.
Sorghum is one of the best alternatives to corn when it comes to biofuel production. It might even be better, since it can survive drought and other less-than-ideal conditions. Problem is, scientists still don't know which variety (because there are numerous) yields the most biofuel feedstock. The Department of Energy earmarked 30 million last year to fund several teams that can help it develop and find the best variety using robots. This particular team says drones will enable them to gather intel on their crops' conditions much faster than humans can.