Straw-powered cars could fill the roads of the future and drive a profitable market in farming co-products, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.
A new study pinpoints five strains of yeast capable of turning co-products including straw, sawdust and corncobs into bioethanol - a well-known alcohol-based biofuel.
It is estimated that more than 400 billion litres of bioethanol could be produced each year.
The research team claims the findings could help to create more environmentally friendly biofuel. Current processes to generate bioethanol from straw and agri by-products are ‘complex and inefficient’ in comparison, they say, because high temperatures and acid conditions are necessary in the glucose-release process.
Lead researcher Dr Tom Clarke, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Dwindling oil reserves and the need to develop motor fuels with a smaller carbon footprint has led to the explosion of research into sustainable fuels.
“Bioethanol is a very attractive biofuel to the automotive industry as it mixes well with petrol and can be used in lower concentration blends in vehicles with no modifications. In Brazil, vehicles which run purely on bioethanol have been on the roads since 1979.
“Breaking down agricultural waste has previously been difficult because many strains of yeast necessary for fermentation are inhibited by compounds in the straw. Their toxic effects lead to reduced ethanol production.”
The research team investigated more than 70 strains of yeast to find the most tolerant. They found five strains which were resistant to the toxic compound furfural, and which produced the highest ethanol yield.