Biofuels have increased in popularity because of rising oil prices and the need for energy security. Researchers from the University of York have now discovered a family of enzymes that can degrade hard-to-digest biomass into its constituent sugars.
The use of 'difficult-to-digest' sources, such as plant stems, wood chips, cardboard waste or insect/crustacean shells, offers a potential solution.
Fuel made from these sources is known as 'second generation' biofuels.
Finding a way of breaking down these sources into their instituent sugars to allow them to be fermented through to bioethanol is regarded as the 'Holy Grail' of biofuel
research.The new research, led by Professor Paul Walton, Professor Gideon Davies at York and Professor Bernie Henrissat, of CNRS, Aix-Marseille Universite, France, opens up major new possibilities in the production of bioethanol from sustainable
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.
"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, butmore importantly - also on the producers of bioethanol who now have a further powerful tool to help them generate biofuel from sustainable sources such as waste plant matter," Walton said.
The study was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.