Despite the call for an increase in renewable energy sources, there’s still certain prohibiting factors from making this more of a widespread reality. Specifically in the automotive industry, electric cars are expensive, not widely available and there are various concerns over how well they’ll hold up in the long run. The other alternative to electric cars is powering them on renewable fuels, such as biofuels. Biofuels are made when certain crops are broken down and converted into fuel. But like electricity, biofuels have their down points as well. For instance, often times biofuels are converted from edible food crops, although that is beginning to change as more and more plants are being identified as potential sources of fuel. However, that first setback brings us to the second pitfall of biofuels – it’s often a slow process converting crops to fuel, which keeps prices high and production low (that’s economics).
But that could all change – and change sooner rather than later – thanks to a recent find by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy. Specifically, researchers have identified a microbe , found in the tropical rainforest, that can endure high concentrations of an ionic liquid, which is typically used to dissolve cellulosic biomass. Scientists think this discovery could greatly speed the biofuel production process, which is an important step toward making it a true alternative to oil. So what exactly could this discovery hold for the future production of biofuels?
Hear it from Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer: “Our findings represent an important first step in understanding the mechanisms of ionic liquid resistance in bacteria and provide a basis for engineering ionic liquid tolerance into strains of fuel-producing microbes for a more efficient biofuel production process.”
To put it simply, such a discovery could bring biofuel one step closer to becoming a mainstream technology. If biofuels are able to be produced more efficiently, then it only makes sense that their prices would drop, making them more affordable to the average automobile driver. And if prices are more affordable – i.e., around the same price as gasoline – it will only be a matter of time before automakers and consumers alike realize the benefits of biofuel when compared to natural resources like oil.
While this is still likely several years down the line, the discovery of this rainforest microbe could be a real trailblazer in setting a new, more eco-friendly trend in terms of how we perceive fuel. What’s more is it could greatly lessen our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.