Washington: Researchers have made a breakthrough in developing second generation of biofuels; they have found a family of enzymes that can degrade hard-to-digest biomass into its constituent sugars.
Fuel made from `difficult-to-digest` sources, such as plant stems, wood chips, cardboard waste or insect / crustacean shells, is known as `second generation` biofuels.
Finding a way of breaking down these sources into their constituent sugars to allow them to be fermented through to bioethanol is regarded as the `Holy Grail` of biofuel research.
The new research was led by Professor Paul Walton and Professor Gideon Davies at York and also involved Professor Bernie Henrissat, of CNRS, Aix-Marseille Universite, Marseille, France. It opens up major new possibilities in the production of bioethanol from sustainable sources.
By studying the biological origins and the detailed chemistry of the enzyme family, the researchers have shown that Nature has a wide range of methods of degrading biomass which humankind can now harness in its own endeavour to produce sustainable biofuels.
Professor Walton said that there`s no doubt that this discovery will have an impact on not only those researchers around the globe working on how to solve the problems associated with second generation biofuel generation, but - more importantly - also on the producers of bioethanol who now have a further powerful tool to help them generate biofuel from sustainable sources like waste plant matter.
The study has been published in Nature Chemical Biology.