Kolkata, Dec 5 (IANS) Scientists at Indian Institute of Technology – Kharagpur have unlocked the secret to ramp up yields of biofuel sourced from commonly found aquatic weeds such as water hyacinths.
In a new study published on December 1 in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers have shown that this weed — which contains up to 50 per cent hemicelluloses — can now be used as an economic and abundant source of biofuel.
“We show that the secret to rapidly producing soluble sugars from amorphous natural polymers such as hemicelluloses lies in their smallest scale-the pores,” said Saikat Chakraborty, faculty member at the Department of Chemical Engineering and lead researcher of the Bioenergy Research Group at IIT – Kharagpur.
Chakraborty and co-author Sajal Kanti Dutta have uncovered the pore-scale phenomena that result in “fourfold increase in the yields of fermentable sugars and bioethanol” from hemicelluloses.
“It turns out that three quarters of the soluble sugars we obtain for generation of bioethanol are produced from the pore-scale reactions. So increasing the polymer’s porosity and degree of swelling will enhance the deconstruction of hemicelluloses from plant cell walls, thus increasing bioethanol,” the authors said.
Hemicelluloses are the second most abundant natural polymer on earth — after cellulose — and a new technology engendered from this pore-scale phenomena could rapidly produce biofuels from locally available plant sources, added Chakraborty.
Apart from water-hyacinth, hemicellulose-based bioethanol can also be produced from commonly available grasses, red and green algae, etc., which have 2.5 to 3 times more hemicellulose than cellulose.
Scientists at the institute’s chemical engineering department and PK Sinha Centre for Bioenergy are now working to transform these fundamental insights into new biofuel technologies that would help fight climate change.