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The Latest Clean Energy Cocktail: Bacteria And Fungus

By throwing together a common fungus and a common bacteria, researchers are producing isobutanol — a biofuel that gallon-for-gallon delivers 82 percent of gasoline’s heat energy. The more common ethanol, by contrast, only gets 67 percent of gasoline’s energy, and does more damage to pipelines and engines. And the University of Michigan research team did it using stalks and leaves from corn plants as the raw material.

The fungus in question was Trichoderma reesei, which breaks down the plant materials into sugars. The team used corn plant leftovers in this case, but many other forms of biomass like switchgrass or forestry waste could also serve. The bacteria was Escherichia coli — good old-fashioned E. coli — which then converted those sugars into isobutanol. Another team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently came up with a similar process by studying leaf cutter ants, but their work produced ethanol instead.
 
 

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