Clean Energy Is Getting Moldy

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Mold is worth a lot these days, particularly to the U.S. Department of Energy, which is forking out $1.3 million to fund research into turning mold into fuel. The $1.3 million grant was handed out by the DoE’s Joint BioEnergy Institute to the University of Missouri, which will conduct DNA genome sequencing for up to 600 strains of Neurospora crassa, a mold species used in classical genetics and also as a model for bio-fuel development.

Kevin McCluskey, curator of the Fungal Genetics Stock Center at the university, told reporters that scientists are looking at new ways of turning plant material into fuel, and Neurospora crassa is a model for how microbes can help this process.

“Neurospora can break down complex molecules and can be used as a research tool to understand how other organisms break down complex plant material. When we look at the differences in the new DNA sequence, and then ask if the same difference is found in any of the other strains we are sequencing, we can identify the unique mutation in each individual strain.” he said.

Related article: EU Kills Bill to Limit Food-Based Biofuels

Neurospora crassa is a common plant-associated mold that grows along with sugar cane and other plants and which also grows on bread in open-air bakeries. The potential uses of mold have been studied since the 1940s, but it’s grown into something much bigger across research sectors, including genetic, biochemical, and molecular studies. Scientists chose this simple, harmless mold for early genetic studies because it is easy to create mutations and conduct genetic cross-studies.

With biotechnology, however, mold is crossing over into yet another discipline, and researchers hope it will prove a key alternative candidate for producing ethanol from renewable sources. Already there are reports that mold can be converted into ethanol hexose and pentose sugars, cellulose polymers and agro-industrial residues.

Right now, some 5 percent of the global liquid fuels consumption of the transportation sector are derived from conventional food-based biofuels, but advanced biofuels – like mold — would offer the world long-term scalability. The problem is that this is all early stages because most conversion technologies have not achieved commercialization.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

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