Researchers have uncovered details of how a certain type of bacteria breaks down cellulose — a finding that could help reduce the cost and environmental impact of the use of biomass, including biofuel production. The bacteria’s cellulose degradation system is in some way different from how a fungus is already widely used in industry, including to soften up denim to make stone-washed jeans.
Efforts to find ways to break down cellulose, the tough stuff that makes up plant cell walls, faster and more productively has long been a goal of industrial researchers.
When plants are processed into biofuels or other biomass applications, cellulose has to be degraded into simpler sugar molecules first, and this step can represent up to a quarter of the operating and capital costs of biofuel production. If this process can be made faster and more productive, it won’t just save industry money, but such efficiencies could