Pandas and Sustainable Bio Fuel

We were recently interviewed in connection with an article on the quest for cellulose based biofuel and how the Panda might lead us in one promising directing. The article can be found here, and below is a transcript:

Do Giant Pandas Hold The Key To Sustainable Fuels? OCTOBER 14, 2013 BY ZINTRO LEAVE A COMMENT Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 12.54.23 PMWhen considering the production of biofuels, concerns over the possible impact on food supply, and subsequently prices, arise. In response scientists have turned to plant waste such as corn cobs and discarded stalks. It would be hard to scale the involved process that transforms plant waste into cellulosic biofuel efficiently and economically, however, researchers have identified over 40 different species of microbes in giant pandas’ gastrointestinal systems that make adult pandas effective at digesting an average of 30 pounds of bamboo per day and may help turn plant waste into biofuels. Here, Zintro experts share their opinions on whether this finding may give the process the head start it needs to become a viable, mainstream option in the search for sustainable fuels. According to Ib Olsen, who specializes in renewable energy and clean technology, “the key for bioethanol to become sustainable and not impact the fuel supply [has to do] with using plant cellulose as raw material rather than sugars or starch (cellulosic ethanol). In contrast to first generation bioethanol, which is derived from sugar or starch produced by food crops (e.g. wheat, corn, sugar beet, sugar cane, etc), cellulosic ethanol may be produced from agricultural residues (e.g. straw, corn stover), other lignocellulosic raw materials (e.g. wood chips) or energy crops (miscanthus, switchgrass, etc).” Olsen explains that “the process [for the latter] is more complex and involves hydrolysis of the cellulose. Research has been focused on finding enzymes (and microbes producing those) that effectively break down the cellulose. The great panda is unique as it does not produce enzymes to break down its bamboo diet, and it relies on microbes in its digestive system- which is not long so the microbes are assumed to be very effective. Research has found at least seve

n enzymes unique to the great panda which can break down cellulose. If the microbes that produce these enzymes can be identified and grown commercially, we may potentially have more cost effective method of making cellulosic ethanol.” Ligia Fagundes, who develops biotechnology and specializes in turning waste into bioenergy, says “there are a lot of different ways to produce biofuels nowadays. From traditional corn and sugarcane to organic solid waste such as cellulosic materials that come from crops or trash. Indeed, microorganisms execute an important role in the process of conversion and would increasingly reduce the cost of production due to the rise of scale and also because of research development within multinational companies dedicated to this field.” Additionally, “local universities and research centers [are dedicated to] finding different organisms to make production needs more feasible. In Brazil, specifically, there are a bunch of great specialists working on it. They are mainly focused on sugarcane waste (bagasse), and in many different countries lots of researches are using other biomass (wood, miscanthus, sweet potato, corn waste, etc) to replace oil for biofuels.” Fagundes asserts that “it is just a matter of time until more second generation ethanol is available at gas stations that does not compete at all with food, but generates more revenues with the same piece of land.” By Gabriela Meller

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