Delft Researcher Advances Bioethanol Production

The efficient production of environmentally friendly fuel — bioethanol — is closer to fruition due to recent research by Delft University of Technology’s researcher Marko Kuyper into improving the conversion of certain sugars from agricultural waste to ethanol.

Currently, bioethanol, produced from agricultural crops, is only made from sugars derived from corncobs, sugar beets, grain and sugarcane, with the help of baker’s yeast. Until recently, the leftover byproducts from the cultivation of these crops, such as straw and cornhusks, could not be used for the production of bioethanol. Now, with research from the Delft University of Technology, a solution has been devised by genetically modifying the baker’s yeast. Delft researchers have inserted a gene (derived from a fungus that is found in elephant feces) into baker’s yeast, allowing it to convert an important sugar type, xylose, into ethanol, thereby making the production of bioethanol from supplies of leftover materials possible. This now allows agricultural land to be used more efficiently and at the same time prevents competition with food supplies. Due to Kuyper’s research, for which he received his PhD in early June, people can now start using agricultural waste products that contain sugar to produce bioethanol on an industrial scale. Delft University of Technology and the Kluyver Centre for Genomics of Industrial Fermentation are working together on this project with Royal Nedalco and BIRD Engineering. These parties expect to achieve large-scale industrial implementation within five years.

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