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Bugs might be able to convert biodiesel waste into new fuel

Source: ScienceDaily.com Feb 1st 2011

There is a growing problem with disposing of biodiesel waste right now, according to www.sciencedaily.com. The issue is glycerol which is a major headache for the biodiesel industry as it isn't pure and therefore cannot be recycled into cosmetics or animal feed, while the process of purifying it costs three times as much as the stuff is actually worth.
However, US student Keerthi Venkataramanan, who attends University of Alabama Huntsville's Biotech Phd programme, thinks he might have discovered the answer. He is working with the Clostridium pasteurianum bacterium which eats glycerol and in so doing produces a number of useful byproducts. "The strain is found deep in the soil" he said "It was originally studied for its ability to fix nitrogen from the air."
The bacterium uses glycerol as a carbohydrate source and produces ethanol, butanol and propanediol as byproducts as well as acetic acid and butyric acid. Butanol can be used in cars and also as an industrial solvent according to Venkataramanan. He says that butanol is normally produced from oil, but this biological method of production is less polluting. At the moment, the bacterium converts 30 to 35 per cent of glycerol into butanol, but Venkataramanan is trying to find out whether that amount can be increased. He is also looking at the bacterium's genetic structure to see if it can be bioengineered for this purpose. He says that his research has several advantages over other similar studies in that Clostridium pasteurianum is not pathogenic in the way that other bacteria being studied are.
It seems that two major American biodiesel companies were forced to close their plants because they couldn't get rid of the glycerol. Hopefully Venkataramanan's research will solve this problem.

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