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Biotech Technology News Science

Fungi From Guts Of Herbivores Could Help Us Make Biofuel (dispatchtribunal.com) 44

hypnosec writes: Researchers have revealed through a new study that fungi from the gut of herbivores like goats, horses and sheep could be used to make biofuel. According to researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara, the fungi retrieved from these animals are capable of converting plant material into sugars that can be easily used to make biofuel and other products at the same efficiency as the best fungi engineering in the industry. Michelle O'Malley, lead author of the paper and professor of chemical engineering at the University, explains that these fungi naturally have the best possible set of enzymes for the job of breaking down biomass and as per their findings, these enzymes work together to break down stubborn plant material.
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Fungi From Guts Of Herbivores Could Help Us Make Biofuel

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  • Every time I read an article on bio fuels or alternate fuels it makes me wonder how the OPEC nations will react if any of those experiments actually yields a sustainable and equivalent alternative to oil.
    • If the recent past is an accurate predictor of the future, OPEC will react badly, cheat on their deals, and generally, fail to get along.

      It's tough to believe a manufactured source of fuel would yet be more economical than exploiting one you just suck out of a well.

    • Keep in mind that a lot of current agriculture isn't sustainable. There's depletion in topsoil, aquifers and fertilizer, particularly phosphates. Also, there's not much land area left that we aren't currently using for food production.
      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        True but this may make desert reclamation feasible or even profitable. That won't be cheap or easy but if we can reclaim 1/3 of what is now too dry to farm and use desalinated water instead of aquifers, it would make for a much different world.

        • Water desalination takes an awful lot of energy, though, and pumping it through the desert takes quite a bit too, and then you still need the nutrients and something to protect the soil from wind erosion. It's probably smarter to put some EV panels in the desert and drive electric cars.
          • You could desalinate water using solar heat. Having said that, solar-powered BEVs/PHEVs probably make much more sense, as you said, and excess electricity could be used for synthesizing fuel in an area-efficient, non-biological way, such as using electrolysis, potentially followed by methanation.
          • by haruchai ( 17472 )

            Use solar thermal and livestock manure and the desalinated brine can also act as energy storage.
            You'll need a lot of space but the world's deserts have plenty of that.

    • by frnic ( 98517 )

      They are not worried about a replacement putting them out of business. They will run out of oil (that is affordable to recover) long before any new tech can be scaled up to the levels they are at now.

      My prediction is a bad decade or so when they finally admit they can't keep up with demand and society goes into major withdrawal pains. At that point some government will need to step in a fund a set of alternatives to pick up the slack.

    • As a bonus, I hear that this new gut microbe biodiesel does not smell like hamburgers nor french fries...

      • As a bonus, I hear that this new gut microbe biodiesel does not smell like hamburgers nor french fries...

        There is already "green diesel", which is diesel made from bio sources but instead of using transesterification via ethanol or methanol and KOH they use a distillation column essentially the same as what is used for cracking petroleum. It has none of the problems of biodiesel like excessively high gel temperature or funny smells, although I always thought the fried food smell was a feature and not a bug.

  • by Harold Halloway ( 1047486 ) on Sunday February 21, 2016 @03:29PM (#51553303)

    I am a vegan rather than a herbivore but if anyone would like to make me an offer for my gut flora, please PM me.

    • Re:For sale... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday February 21, 2016 @03:35PM (#51553323)
      Given how they collected the fungi in the first place, you seem to be asking someone to PM your for a BM
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I am a vegan rather than a herbivore but if anyone would like to make me an offer for my gut flora, please PM me.

      It wouldn't work as you're just an omnivore pretending to be a herbivore. True herbivores have drastically different stomach and gut environments.

  • Why do many environmentalist hate oil and diesel that occurred naturally on our planet, but get so excited about bio-diesel that takes up land and energy to produce that could be used for feeding people or other positive purposes?

    Even the name bio-diesel is sideways and laughable. I'm going to start selling organic-oil, it's exactly like regular oil, only it makes leftist feel better when consuming it.

    • Is it even true that many environmentalists get so excited ? I've heard several environmental groups express the same concerns as you.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why do many environmentalist hate oil and diesel that occurred naturally on our planet, but get so excited about bio-diesel that takes up land and energy to produce that could be used for feeding people or other positive purposes?

      Even the name bio-diesel is sideways and laughable.

      You mean why do environmentalists like bio-diesel? They don't. But smart people realize that the industrial processes involved in petroleum extraction are a bit injurious to the environment, and the political complications are even worse. Wouldn't you rather be able to make all the petroleum products we need rather than pay money to the various Oil Barons across the world? Yes, farming and agriculture have their perils, but those can be mitigated, and it would be useful to keep some hydrocarbons in usag

      • by frnic ( 98517 )

        Good reply, but I expect wasted, since the OP you replied to was simply echoing a sad old meme that never was true - it's just fun to hate on leftists and way to hard to figure why.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually this could be a very big deal. Xylans and similar photosynthetic by-products are very difficult to break down into simple sugars and similar. If the fungi that secrete enzymes that break down those complex compounds could be isolated and grown outside of animals,, any plant material could be used as a feedstock (think tree bark, wood, grass, kelp, etc., even possibly coal). I agree that using corn to make ethanol as a biofuel is odious; it only marginally captures more energy than is used in its

  • Fungi From Guts Of Herbivores Could Help Us Make Biofuel

    When you say "us"...?

    Because I produce quite enough volatile substances already, thanks.

  • I saw something on TV when I was a kid about villages in India where they shovel all the cow shite into a tank and use the methane that comes off as fuel.

    It wouldn't surprise me if someone comes up with a way of powering a ship by harnessing and/or deflecting ambient air movements. Not to mention a method of propelling projectiles by harnessing energy in tension and/or torsion of ligneous substances.

    They'd probably patent them and posthumously sue Nelson & Henry V too - and win.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      villages in India where they shovel all the cow shite into a tank and use the methane that comes off as fuel.

      It is called "bio gas" and is primarily used for cooking (methane) . Along with cow dung, human waste is also used . The methane generated is no different from the methane sourced from an industrial cylinder. This technology was used first in the 80's due to shortage and general unaffordability of LPG cylinders amongst the poor of India.

  • The notion of collecting farts from cattle for use as fuel has been around for decades. Simply design a closed barn and separate the methane produced by the cattle from the air and you have fuel. Solid waste from cattle can also be used as a fuel. I have cooked over cow chips while camping as did many of our ancestors. The fuel produced by cattle may pay better than the selling of their meat and hides.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday February 21, 2016 @09:48PM (#51555195) Homepage Journal

    BP and DuPont's company Butamax has been fighting with GE Energy Venture's biofuel concern Gevo over who gets to make Butanol for years now. Butamax has got their hands on some basic patents for making the process cost-effective, based on technologies developed at public university and partially with your tax dollars. Recently the patent office declared all of the claims of one of Gevo's central patents invalid [lexisnexis.com], which is unfortunate for you and I because Butamax is not actually trying to sell us fuel and Gevo is.

    We therefore already have the technology to make a 1:1 replacement for gasoline [wikipedia.org] which can be made from any organic matter, by bacteria, and we could be running our cars on it right now if only our government had not become primarily a tool for bludgeoning common sense soundly about the neck and head for the sake of profit.

  • by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer@earth[ ]k.net ['lin' in gap]> on Monday February 22, 2016 @12:09AM (#51555933)

    I keep hearing about how we can use "agricultural waste" to make bio-fuel but that is a lie, there is no agricultural waste. What is this "waste" exactly? What do you think happens to it now?

    This "waste" is usually described as cornstalks and other chaff made from the growing of (obviously) corn and other food crops. I grew up on a dairy farm and we'd use those corn stalks as bedding for the cattle, so they'd have a warm and dry place to rest. After those cornstalks are soaked with cattle manure it is collected and spread on the fields. Those corn stalks return vital nutrients to the soil, control erosion, and hold that manure (and other fertilizers) in place for the next crop.

    I suspect a lot of people that live in high rise apartments, that never saw a cow that wasn't served on a plate, think that these corn stalks are hauled off to put in landfills. If we convert cornstalks to fuel then we are going to see another dust bowl in the Midwest.

    I suspect that some vegan would like to point out how we should not be eating meat or drinking milk anyway, we don't need to bed cattle with cornstalks or feed that cattle corn. Okay then, if we harvest all that corn to eat, and haul off the stalks for fuel, then what is holding the soil in place? What is going to keep that topsoil from just blowing away and get carried out to sea by rivers? Answer, the corn stalks that should not be taken out of the field.

    I read an interesting paper on how we could mine basalt, grind it up, and spread on farm land to return nutrients to the field and fix carbon out of the air into the soil. That's something I can support. Use nuclear power to produce that basalt fertilizer rather than the fossil fueled lime kilns we use now, we'd go from carbon positive to carbon negative. We'd also be building up topsoil rather than hauling it away to make fuel. This fuel, by the way, could also be produced from nuclear power in a carbon neutral or perhaps even carbon negative way.

    I'm not even a agronomist or anything like that. I'm just an Iowa farm boy that grew up to write code. Even I see this as an environmental disaster. Do these bio-fuel people even talk to farmers? Did they not do some sort of environmental impact study on removing vital erosion control material, like corn stalks, from fields? Perhaps they did do their homework and I'm missing something important. If so then I'd like someone to point out what I'm missing.

    • You grew up on a diary farm. But generally, the fields where they grow wheat and corn are not close to the places with cattle in stables. I've wondered about what they do with the giant rolls of straw that you see on the fields in autumn in places where there is no cattle (experience in Europe). It may be economic to truck them to livestock farms, although I suspect that some of it is burnt in coal power plants to greenwash electricity. But certainly it's not economic to ship it back once it's soaked with m

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In most cases, those aren't "rolls of straw". They're rolls of hay and they're being left in the field to ferment, thereby increasing their nutritave value to the ruminants they will be fed to. Look up silage.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Deaddy ( 1090107 )

      I do not think that producing biofuel is such an disaster, of course depending on how you implement it. In Germany quite a few farmers already produce biogas using large fermenters on their farm, most often then to directly use it for electricity and heat production, as pressurizing it is too costly. But well, all you are doing is pumping some cubic metres of liquid manure and some other decomposable materials in a huge tank and let anaerobic digestion do their work. As it turns out this even improves the f

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I keep hearing about how we can use "agricultural waste" to make bio-fuel but that is a lie, there is no agricultural waste. What is this "waste" exactly? What do you think happens to it now?

      This "waste" is usually described as cornstalks and other chaff made from the growing of (obviously) corn and other food crops. I grew up on a dairy farm and we'd use those corn stalks as bedding for the cattle, so they'd have a warm and dry place to rest. After those cornstalks are soaked with cattle manure it is collected and spread on the fields. Those corn stalks return vital nutrients to the soil, control erosion, and hold that manure (and other fertilizers) in place for the next crop.

      I suspect a lot of people that live in high rise apartments, that never saw a cow that wasn't served on a plate, think that these corn stalks are hauled off to put in landfills. If we convert cornstalks to fuel then we are going to see another dust bowl in the Midwest.

      You have a point, but it also falls short on the fact that energy can be collected from biomass while the nutrients are recycled into the soil. This is what anaerobic digestion offers, eg. how biogas is produced. Look it up, it's awesome stuff!

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by blindseer ( 891256 )

        The nutrients can be returned but by breaking down the straw the erosion control properties are lost.

        Bio-fuels are a waste of time. We can do better with nuclear power driving a synthetic fuel process. The sooner we learn that the better.

        Let's assume we can make bio-fuel from straw without the problems of reducing the quality of the soil. Then we get back to the problem of having to farm much more land to get enough sun to make our food and our fuel. That means plowing up even more land, forced irrigati

  • Pull my hoof.

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