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Headlines Published on 30 March 2007

ENVIRONMENT
Title Researchers discover link between fungus and ethanol

Scientists recognise the crucial role fungi play in decomposing organic matter in most terrestrial ecosystems. But researchers at University College of Borås in Sweden have gone one step further by actually linking fungi with the production of ethanol. Professor Mohammad Taherzadeh and his team discovered that a fungus can convert waste to ethanol. They also found that it is possible to extract an antibacterial and super-absorbent material that can be composted from the residual biomass. The bottom line is that this discovery will benefit not only nature, but the paper industry and manufacturers of diapers and feminine hygiene products as well.

From left to right are a sanitary towel as a possible final product, biomass during the drying process and an example of biomass before it dries.
From left to right are a sanitary towel as a possible final product, biomass during the drying process and an example of biomass before it dries.
© Eva-Lotta Andersson

For the last seven years, Taherzadeh and his team have been looking for a fungus for ethanol production. Working with peers from Göteborg University, the researchers found a group of filament-making fungi zygomycetes, which have interesting properties.

"Today baker's yeast is used for the production of ethanol, but we have found a fungus that is more effective than baker's yeast," said Taherzadeh, a professor of biotechnology at the School of Engineering at Borås.

The conversion of sulphite lye to ethanol will have a positive effect on both the economy and environment, according to the researchers. Manufacturing plants have a hard time disposing of sulphite lye, which is a by-product of paper and viscose pulp production, because it contains chemicals harmful to nature if released without caution.

"This is truly exciting. Zygomycetes in ethanol production represent an unknown area," Taharzadeh explained. "We are the only scientists in the world to have presented them as ethanol-producing fungi, but we realise that the potential is huge."

The researchers tested more than 100 fungi varieties and settled on the fungus saprophyte, as it has the best properties. Saprophyte is particularly easy to grow in waste and drainage, they said.

As for the paper industry and diaper manufacturers, they are in luck. The biomass that remains after ethanol is produced can be used to extract a cell-wall material that is super-absorbent and anti-bacterial. The upshot is that it is a biological material that can be composted and recycled, the researchers said.

Super-absorbent material currently available on the market is polyacrylate, which is not biodegradable and can only be disposed of by burning. The combustion releases carbon dioxide in the air, which aggravates the greenhouse effect. Besides having the capacity to absorb around 10 times its weight in liquid, biological super-absorbent material will ease the pressure on the environment as carbon dioxide emissions will decline. Taherzadeh and his team plan to continue their work on ethanol production and also expand on the development of the cell-wall material.

This research is also tied to product development work, a collaborative effort between the researchers and two companies: Rexcell AB and Medical Equipment Development AB. The ultimate goal of this is to offer industries a practical commercial product.









More information:

  • University College of Borås
  • Europeans support new energy technologies research







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