Termite Guts: Our Energy Future?
Could termites be humanity’s answer to the quest for efficient biofuels?
According to researchers at the Department of Energy, they may be. Enzymes in the stomachs of termites are overflowing with wood-digesting enzymes, the researchers reported.
These enzymes could one day be used to help produce better and cheaper biofuels by converting wood waste, such as woodchips, into biofuels.
Termite’s intestines are so efficient, they could theoretically turn one sheet of paper into 2 liters of hydrogen, said Andreas Brune of the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology.
The next step before commercializing the process is to determine the exact role of each enzyme. Once that is understood, the enzymes can be synthesized for use in converting wood to hydrogen or to ethanol.
Currently, much of the biomass used for producing biofuels is either corn or sugarcane. This has been shown to be inefficient, and may actually do more harm than good. It has also created food shortages, as Environmental Graffiti has previously reported.
“Good food is today being turned into fuel instead of being fed to people. If we could make ethanol from wood waste instead that would clearly be a good thing,” Brune said.
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