NREL Research Indicates Wood Borers to Provide Enzymes Capable of Breaking Down Biomass for Biofuel Production in Harsh Environments

Research by NREL indicates the wood borers contain an enzyme which can break down biomass for use in biofuel production even in harsh environments.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is continuing its research into the use of enzymes from wood borers, also known as gribbles, for the production of biofuels. The wood borers contain a similar enzyme to that of fungi, which is where enzymes for biofuel production are most often extracted.

NREL first announced in June that it has been researching the use of wood borer enzymes for biofuel production. Working with NREL on the research are the University of Kentucky, and the Universities of York and Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.

Wood borers are especially of interest to NREL and its fellow researchers on the project because of the wood borer’s ability to break down biomass into sugars in harsh environments. Researchers have been looking for enzymes to use in biofuel production which can survive in harsh environments, such as those rich in salt. Because wood borers typically live in marine environments, their gut enzymes naturally thrive in high concentrations of salt.

Research on the wood borer enzyme has found it can remain active at more than six times the salt concentration of the sea, and the enzyme even became more effective at degrading biomass as the salt concentration rose. This is an important finding because current methods of producing biofuel from fungi, such as algae, require the use of a lot of water. According to the NREL researchers, less water in the process saves money, as well as water usage, by enabling utilization of a smaller reactor during the production of the biofuel.

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