Microorganism Developed to Turn Discarded Cardboard Boxes Into Biodiesel

Conceptual diagram for producing biofuels using microorganisms as raw materials for wood-based biomass. Credit: Korea Institue of Science and Technology (KIST)

Development of a microorganism that doubles the yield of biodiesel precursor production using genetic scissors and based on the principles of evolution; expected to reduce fine dust release and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Automobile exhaust emitted by fossil-fuel-based vehicles, especially those operating on diesel, is known to be a major source of fine dust and greenhouse gases . Using biodiesel instead of diesel is an effective way of coping with climate change caused by greenhouse gases while reducing fine dust emission. However, the current method of producing biodiesel by chemically processing vegetable oil or waste cooking oil-such as palm or soybean oil-is limited because of the unreliable availability of raw materials.

Therefore, there is an active effort to develop biofuels by converting lignocellulosic biomass generated as a by-product of farming or logging, instead of consuming raw materials derived from food crops. Lignocellulosic biomass is an economical and sustainable raw material that can be converted to eco-friendly motor fuel through microbial metabolism.

Dr. Sun-Mi Lee and her team at the Clean Energy Research Center of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) have announced that they have developed a novel microorganism capable of producing biodiesel precursors from lignocellulosic biomass such as discarded agricultural by-products, waste paper, and cardboard boxes. This microorganism has achieved the product yield twice of what was obtainable from its predecessors.

This novel microorganism can produce biodiesel precursors during the process of metabolizing sugars contained in the lignocellulosic biomass that it feeds on. The sugar contained in lignocellulosic biomass is generally composed of 65-70% glucose and 30-35% xylose. While microorganisms that exist in nature are effective in producing diesel precursors by metabolizing glucose, they do not feed on xylose, thus limiting the yield of the raw materials.

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