The enthusiasm in this report is a bit much. It is good news that one fungi is able to convert plant material into hydrocarbons. That is one more that we had to work with and a much stronger one.
My hope is that it can be added to one of several working protocols and produce a significant conversion of contained biomass into oil. That is the rub. So far it appears that only a small fraction is converted.
Conversion of cellulose into sugars and ethanol is still resistant to lab work as are most other biological based conversion systems. Even ethanol from sugar is hardly a trouble free process and the final step needs a lot of energy.
Also, whoever saw fast acting fungi?
We are very much on a long learning curve. Biomass can be ground up and put into a digester. Bacteria and enzymes can break things up and digest sugars. Perhaps fungi can complete the job by converting remaining material into oils. At the same time many wild organisms must also be accommodated. It also should happen quickly while separating useful components out for refining. All those components are possible toxins or food for other organisms.
I find it hard to be optimistic even though neat stuff keeps popping up.
And no, fungi did not have a role producing geological oil. Pressure and heat did a wonderful job and we can emulate that also at temperatures in which fungi disassociate.
Oil Creation Theory Challenged by Fuel-Making Fungus
By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor
posted: 04 November 2008 06:29 am ET
A newfound fungus living in rainforest trees makes biofuel more efficiently than any other known method, researchers say.
In fact, it's so good at turning plant matter into fuel that researchers say their discovery calls into question the whole theory of how crude oil was made by nature in the first place.
While many crops and microbes can be combined to make biofuels — including the fungi thatbecame infamous as jungle rot during WWII — the newfound fungus could greatly simplify the process, its discoverers claim. Researchers have suggested that billions of acres of fallow farmland could be used to grow the raw material of biofuels. But turning corn stalks or switchgrass into fuel is a painstaking process and the end product is expensive and not entirely friendly to the environment.
The fungus, which has been named Gliocladium roseum, stands out in the crowd.
"This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances," said researcher Gary Strobel from
. "The fungus can even make these diesel compounds from cellulose, which would make it a better source of biofuel than anything we use at the moment." Montana State University
The scientists are now working to develop its fuel producing potential, according to a paper published in the November issue of the journal Microbiology.
The fungus grows inside the Ulmo tree in the Patagonian rainforest in
South America. "When we examined the gas composition of G. roseum, we were totally surprised to learn that it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon derivatives," the stuff of diesel, Strobel said. The fuel it produces has been dubbed "myco-diesel."
Cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose make up the cell walls in plants. They makes the stalks, sawdust and woodchip and cannot be digested by most living things. Some 400 million tons of this plant waste is produced ever year just from farmland, Strobel and his colleagues say. In current biofuel production, this waste is treated with enzymes called cellulases that turn the cellulose into sugar. Microbes then ferment this sugar into ethanol that can be used as a fuel.
If G. roseum can be used commercially to make fuel, a step could be skipped.
"We were very excited to discover that G. roseum can digest cellulose. Although the fungus makes less myco-diesel when it feeds on cellulose compared to sugars, new developments in fermentation technology and genetic manipulation could help improve the yield," Strobel explained. "In fact, the genes of the fungus are just as useful as the fungus itself in the development of new biofuels."
The discovery also questions assumptions about how fossil fuels are made.
"The accepted theory is that crude oil, which is used to make diesel, is formed from the remains of dead plants and animals that have been exposed to heat and pressure for millions of years," Strobel said. "If fungi like this are producing myco-diesel all over the rainforest, they may have contributed to the formation of fossil fuels."