Food Waste to Fuel: Part 1
This research project aims to convert food waste into butanol fuel in the most efficient and most environment-friendly manner. *A separation process will be researched and designed to first separate simple sugars from the food waste using thermophilic fungi. The challenge is to create a process that needs little energy input and produces a limited or no amount of waste and pollutant*. The next portion of this research deals with taking this sugar and converting it into butanol fuel via fermentation. This will be done by genetically modifying the metabolic pathways of, Clostridium beijerinckii, to convert the glucose (sugar) into high yields butanol fuel. The objective here is to perform gene deletion in an attempt to direct the metabolic pathways of the microbe in such a way where it will produce the highest yield of butanol. *This portion of the Research is done by Eamon Cullinane in his Food Waste to Fuel: Part 2. Research Question/Significance
The question this research seeks to answer is whether gene deletion of the hydrogenase gene in Clostridium beijerinckii can increase the amount of butanol product it yields. The research will have a huge impact on Carnegie Mellon University’s food waste. Currently it gets sent to a company called AgRecycle to be processed into a soil amendment. This research aims to optimally convert the waste into useful butanol fuel. When the process design is completed, the university will be able to scale it up, construct it, and use it to convert their food waste into useful fuel. Today we face a huge energy crisis with fossil fuels and natural gas running low on supply domestically, causing the United States to import these fuels. In order to become self-sufficient, we need to continue the search for efficient biofuels. This research aims at doing exactly that. Around the world, researchers are genetically modifying E. coli and yeast using DNA from Clostridium acetobutylicum because E. coli and yeast are readily available, however this research aims at optimizing an already existing pathway for the production of butanol in Clostridium beijerinckii. Project Design and Feasibility
***NOTE: My colleague, Eamon Cullinane, will design the separation processes in this procedure. The separation of sugar from waste has already been done before through complex high pressure and temperature hydrolysis followed by digestion with purified enzymes processes, but these attempts are neither cost effective nor pollutant friendly. They require too much energy input compared to the end output. So we need a new way to go about treating the food waste. Eamon Cullinane will be exploring methods of treating waste with fungi. This process uses specific fungi to free fermentable sugars from the complex polysaccharides in food waste (saccharification). The sugar will then be converted to butanol via the fermentation process that I am researching. The last step would be to separate the butanol from the rest of the products, which can be done by a simple distillation step.
My portion of the research deals with engineering the metabolic pathway within cells, specifically the Clostridium beijerinckii. Metabolic pathways convert sugars to various compounds step by step. The destinations of these metabolic pathways depend on the environmental conditions and the enzymes within the cell. This research aims to engineer the proper production of enzymes to direct the Clostridium beijerinckii cell to produce higher yields of butanol than it normally would. The metabolic pathway from glucose to butanol naturally found in the wildtype Clostridium beijerinckii is shown in the two diagrams below.
It is seen on the right that in going from pyruvte to Acetyl-CoA, there exists an intermediary step, which converts 2H+ into H2, which removes 2 hydrogen ions from continuing down the chain to butanol as shown on the left. The less hydrogen ions that are able to...
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