With $1.5 million grant, UD engineers will study microbes for biofuel production


With $1.5 million grant, UD engineers study microbes for biofuel production

A group of bacteria best known for causing stomach trouble could also be a source of sustainable energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Eleftherios (Terry) Papoutsakis a three-year, $1.5 million grant to study the production of clostridium bacteria as platforms for biofuels.

Papoutsakis, the Unidel Eugene du Pont chair ofChemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware, will work to uncover insights about metabolism and environmental signaling in these microbes for use to produce fuels from renewable resources.

Papoutsakis has been studying clostridium bacteria for more than four decades.

Clostridia are anaerobic bacteria that can be found in many environments that lack oxygen, from soil to parts of the human body. As these bacteria digest their food, which includes carbohydrates, proteins, and many other molecules, they produce compounds such as butanol, acetone, and ethanol, which are useful to makers of industrial chemicals and biofuels.

Over the past few years, Papoutsakis has been utilizing unique combinations of bacteria to optimize this mix of metabolites.

When multiple microbes are strategically combined, many additional new chemical reactions occur when they combine their metabolic capabilities.

The ultimate goal is to create fuel in a more sustainable way, said Papoutsakis.

This is also a growing field at UD.

“The biology or the microbiology of complex systems is a very interesting field, and there is a lot of activity in it here at UD,” said Papoutsakis. “We hope that we will see even expanded activity in that field because it brings together so much from various disciplines, from chemistry to biology to microbiology, imaging, computational biology; they’re all important areas and growth areas in science and technology, which makes this exciting.”

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