|5 April 2017|
A team of international scientists has shown biofuels can be produced from genetically engineered sugarcane.
Led by the University of Illinois, the researchers also discovered the additional sugar produced could be used to make ethanol.
The modified sugarcane is packed with a number of additional benefits. It is significantly more profitable per acre than soybeans and corn but even more importantly it can be grown on land in the Gulf Coast region unable to properly support these other crops.
On the dual purpose crop, Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois, Stephen Long said: “Instead of fields of oil pumps, we envision fields of green plants sustainably producing biofuel in perpetuity on our nation’s soil, particularly marginal soil that is not well suited to food production.”
Professor Long leads the research project Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS) that has pioneered this work at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.
He continued: “While fuel prices may be considered low today, we can remember paying more than $4 per gallon not long ago. As it can take 10-15 years for this technology to reach farmers’ fields, we need to develop these solutions to ensure our fuel security today and as long as we need liquid fuels into the future.”
Using a juicer 60% of the oil and 90% of the sugar were recovered from the plant. The trick is in separating them, to use the sugar to produce the ethanol and then be able to recover the oil for biofuels, which the team did successfully. The method has now been patented.
“The oil composition is comparable to that obtained from other feedstocks like seaweed or algae that are being engineered to produce oil,” said co-author Vijay Singh, Director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at Illinois.