Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati and the University of Lisbon, Portugal have studied the efficacy of a specific bacterial enzyme in breaking down woody biomatter into simple sugar that can be fermented efficiently to produce bioethanol - a promising renewable fuel that can replace petroleum-based fuel systems.
The research has been published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.
According to officials, the production of fuel from renewable biological sources has elicited significant scientific interest in recent years because of the problems of dwindling fossil fuel reserves and the environmental pollution associated with their generation and use.
"Of the many biofuels known, ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is widely studied because of its positive impact on the environment. This intoxicating component of spirits and drinks that can also be used to fuel vehicles, is commonly produced by the fermentation of sugar and starch-containing raw materials grapes, barley, potato, among others," Arun Goyal, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati said.
However, there is interest in developing methods to extract bioethanol for fuel from agricultural and forestry residues and crops that are rich in carbohydrate polymers (lignocellulose) the plant dry matter that constitutes the woody part of plants.
For industrial production of bioethanol as fuel, the lignocellulose extracted from plants is deconstructed by using the biological catalysts (enzymes) called cellulases, and subsequently fermented. Endoglucanase is one such cellulase enzyme.
"The research has shown that multifunctional RfGH5_4 cellulase (enzyme) might be used for the efficient and cost-effective production of lignocellulosic bioethanol on an industrial scale. Thus, its ability to break down cellulose and hemicellulose makes it possibly useful in various other applications such as the textile, food and pulp industry, synthesis of prebiotics, and pharmaceuticals, among others," Parmeshwar Gavande, PhD research scholar at IIT Guwahati.
"Agricultural residual biomasses are wasted or burned causing various environmental hazard, including global warming and climate change. Their deconstruction by RfGH5_4 might extend its usage in food medicine as well," he added.