delware environmental institute

New brew in quest for biofuel: Mixotrophy twist leads researchers to higher yields, lower emissions

You don't have to be a beer lover to understand the chemistry behind new research emerging from two labs at the University of Delaware and their collaborators at White Dog Labs in New Castle, Delaware. But if you are, you might want to raise a toast to their latest brew. They're not working with hops and malt, mind you, but the same engine that produces beer – fermentation – drives the work now featured in a new article in Nature Communications.

Unlike that barley soda, which sparkles with little bubbles of escaping carbon dioxide, the product these researchers are delivering – acetone – comes with near-zero carbon emissions.

Researchers have identified a promising blend of bacteria and synthesis gas that, in laboratory tests, is producing much more acetone than other methods while avoiding the carbon dioxide emissions dilemma.

The acetone is a proof-of-concept project with value of its own, but it also could lead to significant advances in the quest to produce biofuels – renewable, sustainable energy from sources that do not add to the planet's carbon pollution.

The work is done in two labs at UD – those of Eleftherios (Terry) Papoutsakis, the Unidel Eugene du Pont Chair of Chemical Engineering, and Maciek Antoniewicz, the Centennial Junior Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering – in partnership with White Dog Labs, a young biotechnology firm that is pursuing new ways of reducing carbon emissions and increasing efficiencies.