Thursday, April 19, 2007

Robots and Ethanol

I thought this to be an interesting article on Ethanol. The ARS is searching for ways to make ethanol production more efficient. They need to.....

Robot, Yeast Combo May Mean More Ethanol

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Peoria, Ill., are excited about the latest member to join their team: a one-armed robot. They expect it to speed studies aimed at harnessing the power of proteins for industrial uses, such as making fuel ethanol from fibrous corn stover. The robot is the centerpiece of an automated system called the "plasmid-based functional proteomics work cell." According to Stephen Hughes, a molecular biologist with the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, the system is the first of its kind to fully automate several procedures that have traditionally been carried out by hand--human hand, that is. A short list of functions includes extracting genetic material from the cells of plants, microbes and other organisms; making DNA copies of genes; inserting the copies into Escherichia coli; culturing these bacteria so that the copies can be sequenced and their proteins identified; and inserting desirable genes into yeasts used to make ethanol. Thanks to the fast, precise movements of its mechanized arm, the robotic system can carry out such tasks hundreds--or even thousands--of times faster than a human could, notes Hughes. He and colleagues in the ARS center's Bioproducts and Biocatalysis Research Unit codeveloped the system with a team from Hudson Control Group of Springfield, N.J., starting in 2004. Of particular interest is using the robotic system to genetically modify new strains of Saccharomyces yeast that can metabolize sugars locked up within corn fiber--something these microbial workhorses have so far failed to do. Currently, only the starch from corn and other grain crops is being converted commercially into the sugars from which ethanol is derived. With the Saccharomyces yeasts now used, this equates to nearly three gallons of ethanol from a bushel of corn. Using new strains capable of breaking down corn fiber could potentially squeeze 10 percent more ethanol from the grain, Hughes and colleagues estimate. Read more about this and other ARS bioenergy research in the April 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Source: Jan Suszkiw, ARS News Service


I think there is definitely a place for ethanol in the alternative fuels debate. I would just like to see it made from recycling scrap organics, or from fibrous plant residues that can be harvested from marginally productive land rather than from corn. Until the switch occurs, the negative impact to food prices, and the inefficient ethanol production methods will cost the consumers more than the benefits.

1 comment:

MotherPie said...

I'm with you on your ideas and like that you dig deeper on this than I might. Efficiency and recycling must be a part of it. It is not efficient at the moment. Our thinking is too short-term.