Economical aviation fuel from fungus

The US researchers have discovered the method to produce jet fuel or aviation turbine fuel (ATF) from a common black fungus found in rotting leaves, fruit and soil. They anticipate the new method would lead to cost-effective manufacture of ATF in a quinquennium.

Researchers from Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, Washington State University used the fungus Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to generate hydrocarbons, the main component of ATF, a mixture of a large number of different hydrocarbons. They kept the fungus on a diet of oatmeal to produce the hydrocarbons. They further found that the fungus also produced hydrocarbons by eating wheat straw or non-edible leftovers from corn production. A researcher from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also helped the team to genetically manipulate  A. carbonarius. The team believes that the fungi produce hydrocarbons as a protective mechanism, supported by a study showing that fungi react to bacterial attacks by increasing their hydrocarbon production.

Scientists around the world have been of interested about fungi for about a decade to produce bio-fuels. Though previous studies further showed that fungi could create hydrocarbons, the research was limited to a specific fungus growing on a particular tree in the rainforest, and the actual hydrocarbon concentrations were also not reported. Moreover fungi have a complex biological system that is often poorly understood and thus are not always easy to handle.

Production of hydrocarbon and bio-fuels by fungi is superior compared to other methods because this process bypasses multiple complicated chemical processes, required in other bio-fuel production methods. Furthermore the cost of the fuel obtained in this method is relatively low.

The researchers are now trying to optimize the fungi’s hydrocarbon production and improve biochemical pathways through genetic engineering. They have also obtained mutants able to produce hydrocarbons at a higher level and to improve these strains by using gene coding.

Experts think the research is promising. The researchers have said that they are confident that fuels from fungus would soon be produced commercially.

Journal Reference: Fungal Biology, 2015; 119 (4): 274 DOI: 10.1016/j.funbio.2015.01.001


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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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