"Mycodiesel" Discovered--In Northern Patagonian Tree Fungus

November 5, 2008
Montana State University plant scientist Gary Strobel was shocked to discover that a fungus growing inside the ulmo tree secretes a compound that "could be used in a modern diesel engine without any modification," as reported in The Guardian. Strobel claims the chemical makeup of this liquid is remarkably similar to diesel No. 2, but of all organically based sources that mimic the hydrocarbons that store energy in fossil fuels, Strobel's Gliocladium roseum fungus is the most energy-dense.

An additional benefit is the fungus' ability to consume cellulose, which makes up the majority of organic waste that is currently thrown away as rubbish (wood chips, sawdust, stalks, etc.). Similar to the blue-green algae that live off CO2 and sunlight and produce a diesel-like waste product, Strobel's fungus literally feeds on organic waste and secretes diesel-mimicking liquid as a by-product.

This marks another promising step in the search for sustainable biofuels. The United States' push toward E85 (85 percent corn-based ethanol, 15 percent fossil fuel) has fallen out of favor due to its reliance on massive amounts of water, land, and corn to produce a relatively small yield of fuel (see Time magazine). Certain biodiesel production methods, which rely on virgin-based vegetable oils (such as palm kernel oil), have resulted in deforestation in Brazil and other areas that environmentalists condemn as counterproductive. Prior to Strobel's discovery, which he is terming "mycodiesel," scientists had discovered that blue-green algae is nearly 50 percent diesel-friendly oil by volume, and that they thrive in C02-rich areas like exhaust plumes of factories where they are employed both to scrub factory emissions and produce biodiesel.

Details of Strobel's findings will be published in the November edition of the journal Microbiology. Other scientists call Strobel's research encouraging, such as Tariq Butt, who notes that "fungi are very important but we often overlook these organisms." Nonetheless, they claim more research and testing is needed before calling this a decisive victory for biofuels. Is there a Volkswagen Jetta TDI myco-turbo-cleandiesel, or a Mercedes E320 BlueTEC mycodiesel, in the near future?--Colin Mathews

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