Microorganisms play a pivotal role in producing biofuels, which are increasingly seen as sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.
Micro organisms in meeting the current fuel shortage
1. Bioethanol Production:
Microorganisms, primarily yeast and some bacteria, ferment sugars derived from plants to produce bioethanol, a biofuel. Crops like sugarcane, corn, and beetroot are commonly used for this purpose.
Lignocellulosic biomass from non-food crops, agricultural residues, or forestry waste can also be broken down into fermentable sugars using specific enzymes produced by certain microorganisms. This approach is more sustainable as it doesn’t compete with food resources.
2. Biodiesel Production:
Microalgae are promising organisms for biodiesel production. They accumulate lipids (fats) which can be converted to biodiesel.
The advantage of using microalgae is that they can grow in areas unsuitable for agriculture, can have higher lipid productivity compared to traditional oilseed crops, and can be cultivated in brackish water, reducing the freshwater burden.
Methanogenic archaea are microorganisms that help produce biogas (mainly methane) through the anaerobic digestion of organic waste, including agricultural residues, animal waste, and municipal solid waste.
4. Biohydrogen Production:
Certain bacteria can produce hydrogen gas either through fermentation or through the biophotolysis of water. Biohydrogen is a clean fuel, and its combustion results in water as the only byproduct.
5. Microbial Electrolysis Cells (MECs):
These are devices that use bacteria to break down organic matter. The electrons released in the process are captured on electrodes, producing hydrogen gas which can then be used as a fuel.
6. Direct Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs):
These cells harness the electrical power generated by certain bacteria when they oxidize organic matter. Although this technology is still in its infancy, MFCs have the potential to produce electricity directly from organic waste or wastewater.
7. Advanced Biofuels:
Researchers are studying the potential of microorganisms to produce advanced biofuels, such as biobutanol, which can be a direct replacement for gasoline as it has higher energy content than ethanol.
8. Bio-oil Production:
Some microorganisms, when subjected to specific conditions, produce bio-oil, which can be further refined and used as a fuel.
However, challenges such as scalability, economic viability, and optimization of production processes need to be addressed to fully harness the potential of microbial biofuels.