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Adv Appl Microbiol. 2010;70:57-92. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2164(10)70002-2. Epub 2010 Mar 6.

Production of biofuels from synthesis gas using microbial catalysts.

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Department of Microbiology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.


World energy consumption is expected to increase 44% in the next 20 years. Today, the main sources of energy are oil, coal, and natural gas, all fossil fuels. These fuels are unsustainable and contribute to environmental pollution. Biofuels are a promising source of sustainable energy. Feedstocks for biofuels used today such as grain starch are expensive and compete with food markets. Lignocellulosic biomass is abundant and readily available from a variety of sources, for example, energy crops and agricultural/industrial waste. Conversion of these materials to biofuels by microorganisms through direct hydrolysis and fermentation can be challenging. Alternatively, biomass can be converted to synthesis gas through gasification and transformed to fuels using chemical catalysts. Chemical conversion of synthesis gas components can be expensive and highly susceptible to catalyst poisoning, limiting biofuel yields. However, there are microorganisms that can convert the CO, H(2), and CO(2) in synthesis gas to fuels such as ethanol, butanol, and hydrogen. Biomass gasification-biosynthesis processing systems have shown promise as some companies have already been exploiting capable organisms for commercial purposes. The discovery of novel organisms capable of higher product yield, as well as metabolic engineering of existing microbial catalysts, makes this technology a viable option for reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

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