MicroBioGen renders bioethanol cost-effective and sustainable

The Australian biotech firm has helped render bioethanol commercially viable.

The genetically modified version of common yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, allows for the production of high protein food as well as low carbon bioethanol. As such, it can serve to allay market tension over crops being used for fuel or food by contributing to both streams.

The breakthrough in bioethanol research came after 15 years of R&D at MicroBioGen’s Sydney facility.

"For the first time ever, a single yeast strain - optimised using our proprietary technology - can produce both clean fuel and food from non-food biomass", MicroBioGen CEO Geoff Bell said.

The technology in question was developed in tandem with Danish biotechnology company Novozymes and funded partly by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which issued a grant worth $4 million.

Europe is the third largest producer of bioethanol in the world. Said biofuel has value as an important renewable energy and fuel source and could potentially help the EU meet its carbon emissions reduction goal. Bioethanol has a market value close to €8 million in Europe, the sector set to grow steadily over the next decades.

Usually, bioethanol in the first generation is produced through the processing of crops such as maize or wheat, which may lead to competition with the food market.

Second generation bioethanol production, on the other hand, relies on waste plant matter from forestry or agriculture such as wheat straw or sugarcane bargasse. This method is favoured on account of its potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions though it comes with its own problems-the breaking down of such materials using regular yeasts is usually complex as well as costly.

MicroBioGen’s new yeast strain circumvents these problems, it having been found to consume less energy whilst producing fewer emissions.

In comparison to other commercial second-generation yeast strains, MicroBioGen's product was found to reduce water use by 75 per cent and CO2 emissions by 29pc.

"Our process is shown to be less costly, use less energy and produce fewer emissions than other comparable second-generation biofuel processes. The food produced also uses significantly less land than equivalent production elsewhere," Mr.Bell said.

"It's a virtuous cycle - the more biofuel we create, the more food we produce and the more carbon we remove. We're replacing fossil fuels and adding to food security".

MicroBioGen and Novozymes are now set to trial the yeast strains before bringing them to market.