Friday, December 19, 2008

Fungus Fuel

Who says biofuels have to be a diversion of food crops? Biological life is very flexible and I believe it's possible for biologists to genetically engineer a biological life form which can directly produce massive quantities of liquid fuel. Maybe. In any case... A Montana State University professor has found a fungus from the Patagonia rainforest that produces a new type of diesel fuel. This is like the algae research, but this fungus could do even better than that.

The output from the fungus can be called “myco-diesel”. The gas composition of G. roseum included hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives. A spoonful of the stuff could run a diesel engine with further refining or modifications to it. A big question remains of whether the microbe can be scaled up to commercial levels.

The biologist who found this speculates that organisms such as G. roseum may be responsible for the world’s crude oil deposits. If true it would be a huge departure from all prior theories of how fossil oil deposits developed. The traditional view is that fossil oil formed from decaying ocean micro-organisms, while the Abiogenic theory holds that the planet has some inner process that produces fossil oil just as there are methane deposits all over the place.

The production of myco-diesel hydrocarbons and their derivatives by the endophytic fungus Gliocladium roseum (NRRL 50072): Gary A. Strobel, Berk Knighton, Katreena Kluck, Yuhao Ren, Tom Livinghouse, Meghan Griffin, Daniel Spakowicz and Joe Sears

An endophytic fungus, Gliocladium roseum (NRRL 50072), produced a series of volatile hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives on an oatmeal-based agar under microaerophilic conditions as analysed by solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME)-GC/MS. As an example, this organism produced an extensive series of the acetic acid esters of straight-chained alkanes including those of pentyl, hexyl, heptyl, octyl, sec-octyl and decyl alcohols. Other hydrocarbons were also produced by this organism, including undecane, 2,6-dimethyl; decane, 3,3,5-trimethyl; cyclohexene, 4-methyl; decane, 3,3,6-trimethyl; and undecane, 4,4-dimethyl. Volatile hydrocarbons were also produced on a cellulose-based medium, including heptane, octane, benzene, and some branched hydrocarbons. An extract of the host plant, Eucryphia cordifolia (ulmo), supported the growth and hydrocarbon production of this fungus. Quantification of volatile organic compounds, as measured by proton transfer mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), indicated a level of organic substances in the order of 80 p.p.m.v. (parts per million by volume) in the air space above the oatmeal agar medium in an 18 day old culture. Scaling the PTR-MS profile the acetic acid heptyl ester was quantified (at 500 p.p.b.v.) and subsequently the amount of each compound in the GC/MS profile could be estimated; all yielded a total value of about 4.0 p.p.m.v. The hydrocarbon profile of G. roseum contains a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel and so the volatiles of this fungus have been dubbed ‘myco-diesel’. Extraction of liquid cultures of the fungus revealed the presence of numerous fatty acids and other lipids. All of these findings have implications in energy production and utilization.

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