Posted in | Biofuels | Sustainability

Stems of Weedy Plant Could be Optimized for Biofuel Production

A potential plant for biofuel production has been found on the roadside of North Australia.

A sorghum variety found growing wildly in Australia called Arun is capable of producing more than 10,000 litres of bioethanol per hectare in a year. Arun was discovered by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University of Adelaide.

Scientists tested 12 varieties of sorghum in their stems for their ease of bioethanol conversion as well as sugar content, and published their reports in the PLOS ONE journal. The 12 varieties of sorghum included wild and cultivated varieties and among all Arun was found to yield considerably more amount of bioethanol than that of other varieties.

Two key advantages of using stem (rather than leaves or grain) to make biofuel is that we can produce this material in low input systems; and as we do not eat this part of the plant we avoid the food versus fuel debate.

Dr Caitlin Byrt, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Adelaide

The presence of high levels of an easily fermentable sugar appears to prevent the action of a component, which is abundantly present in the Arun stem. This component is known to inhibit the production of bioethanol.

According to scientists, there exists an untapped diversity in various other species and subspecies of sorghum, which provides new research avenues for the production of sorghum lines that can produce large quantities of biofuel.

A Davis, California-based agricultural technology company called Arcadia Biosciences is a partner in this research, and is currently working along with the Centre to commercialize this discovery.

Commercial application of this work could easily extend to production areas outside Australia. We remain keenly interested in collaborating with the Centre and other partners to explore the use of sorghum as an alternative and sustainable energy source.

Raj Ketkar, CEO, Arcadia

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