Chemical engineers over at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology have found an interesting way to process biodiesel more efficiently by using enzymes naturally produced by a fungus as a catalyst for the reaction.
Typically, biodiesel is made by mixing methanol with lye and vegetable oil and then heating the brew for several hours. This links the methanol to the oils to produce energetic called esters. Unfortunately, heating the mixture is a huge waste of energy, and a major selling point of alternative fuels is efficiency. An enzyme called lipase can link link oil to methanol without any extra heating, but the pure protein is expensive.
Potumarthi has a simple solution. Why bother purifying the lipase? It would be easier to just find an organism that produces plenty of the enzyme and squish it into pellets. In this case, the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae does the trick.
Metarhizium anisopliae is also considered an entomopathogenic fungus which is a parasitic fungus that kills insects by germinating in the insect’s cuticle, growing into its body cavity and releasing fungal toxins. The fungi in some cases causes the insect to become delirious before it kills it and takes over the insect’s body with spores. Some of you may remember this sick clip below from BBC’s Planet Earth (warning, if you have not seen this, it will blow your mind):
I am all about using natural means to deal with pest problems, especially in regions where the pests create massive public heath epidemics. I am also all about developing more efficient ways to process biofuels. But does it make sense to mass produce this entomopathogenic fungi (and it would have to be massively produced to meet the current biodiesel production rates) that could potentially infect innocent insect bystanders? This I am not so sure of. Am I being paranoid? Perhaps I am just traumatized by the Planet Earth video.