A heat-tolerant enzyme capable of breaking down the plant cell walls of biomass into biofuel was found in the hot springs of Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. The enzyme has been patented by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).
Produced by a species of bacteria called Dictyoglomus turgidum, the heat-tolerant enzyme is valuable because researchers normally use scalding temperatures to help weaken the sturdy cellulose polymers that hold plant cell walls together. Once the cellulose is broken apart by enzymes, simple sugars are available for fermentation into ethanol.
Typically, these processing reactions occur between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but they are limited by the use of fungal enzymes that cannot function in extreme heat. Dictyoglomus enzymes can function in temperatures up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, reports the GLBRC.
A team at C5•6 Technologies (along with its partner Lucigen, both based in Middleton, Wis.) is collaborating with GLBRC. They have sequenced the Dictyoglomus turgidum genome and developed methods to produce the enzyme in the lab. These techniques are expected to allow the enzyme to be generated for use in large-scale biofuels production.
The GLBRC (www.glbrc.org), based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was established by a Department of Energy grant in 2007.