Energy

Biofuel-friendly sugarcane has all the sugar and more oil

Biofuel-friendly sugarcane has...
Sugarcane could soon be an even more valuable source of biofuel
Sugarcane could soon be an even more valuable source of biofuel
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Sugarcane could soon be an even more valuable source of biofuel
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Sugarcane could soon be an even more valuable source of biofuel

Amongst the arguments against growing crops for use as biofuel feedstock is the fact that they displace food crops. However, what if they could be grown on marginal land that wouldn't be suitable for food crops anyway? Well, that's the case with sugarcane. Now, genetically-engineered types of sugarcane may make it a more valuable source of biofuel than ever before.

Led by the University of Illinois, a multi-institution team created varieties of sugarcane that have much more oil in their leaves and stem than unmodified varieties. That oil could be used in biodiesel production. It was assumed that this boost in oil production would result in less sugar production, although that turned out not to be the case. That's a good thing, as that sugar can be used to produce ethanol.

The scientists ran the sugarcane through a juicer, simultaneously extracting about 90 percent of the sugar and 60 percent of the oil. Using a patented technique, that mixture was subsequently fermented to produce ethanol, then treated with organic solvents to recover the oil.

So far, the team has created sugarcane plants that are 13 percent oil, 8 percent of which is the type that could be made into biodiesel. Even if that figure were just 5 percent, the researchers claim that it would amount to "an extra 123 gallons [466 l] of biodiesel per acre than soybeans and 350 more gallons [1,325 l] of ethanol per acre than corn."

That said, the project is currently hoping to boost that oil content figure to 20 percent, which is the theoretical maximum limit.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology.

Source: University of Illinois PETROSS Project

5 comments
apprenticeearthwiz
As we increasingly discover we have no need to, burning things for energy will become an interesting moment in history.
michael_dowling
Some applications will always require burning things for energy,such as in jet airliners. If a carbon neutral source of jet fuel can be made,that would be great.
zr2s10
Very interesting! Even though electric power will play an important role in our future, combustion engines will still exist on a large scale. And crude oil is getting harder and harder to come by. Corn Ethanol isn't really the best alternative, and I hope this pans out. I'd rather my fuel budget go to supporting farmers!
bql
why are you guys spreading lies? biofuel doesnt displace food crops. ethanol can be made from sugarbeets. only sugar gets fermented into ethanol. rest of the beet remains as high quality animal feed that you grow anyway. and in biodiesel made from rapeseed only oil gets used as fuel, rest of seed remains as animal feed.
Don Duncan
If we had a free market we could find the cheapest fuels. Lots of experimenting by venture capital would do it. Private risk, private gain, in the short run, but in the long run, we all win. Rockefeller didn't give a damn about whales, but he saved them when he financed the development of a cheaper alternative to their oil. That was before regs crippled innovation/business, "for our own protection". The USSR took over business to protect the worker, and slowly "protected" over 74 years into widespread economic collapse. Now in the United Socialist States of America, it is repeating.