Researchers Use Fungus to Formulate Jet Fuel; Commercial Viability Check Now in Process

A common black fungus, which typically occurs in decaying fruit, leaves and soil, has proven its use in an unlikely application – jet fuel. Researchers have found a method to produce jet fuel using the fungus, which is widely found in nature. The team is now working on finding a method of producing aviation biofuel using this fungus as an ingredient. However, it will be at least five years before they can find an economically viable way of creating the formulation.

The fungus, Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010, was used by the team to create hydrocarbons – the basic component in petroleum. The hydrocarbons that the team creating using the novel material were seen to be akin to those contained in aviation fuels

The team was headed by Birgitte Ahring, director, WSU Tri-cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory. The findings of the research were published in the Fungal Biology journal’s April edition. According to the team, the fungus produced the highest amounts of hydrocarbons when it was fed oatmeal. However, similar results were obtained when the fungus was on a diet of straw as well as waste from corn production. 
 
For about a decade now, scientists have made use of fungi to produce biofuels of several different properties. The fungus acts as an instrumental producer of enzymes that are key for causing biomass to convert into sugars. Earlier, some researchers established that while fungi could produce hydrocarbons, these findings had limitations because they only studied a specific variety of fungi that lives in a specific habitat. Moreover, many of these studies failed to report the actual concentration of hydrocarbons obtained.

In the past, Ahring's research team has successfully used Aspergillus fungi (standard variety) to obtain enzymes as well as a few other useful products. These products have been patented and are on course to being commercialized. The team was assisted by a researcher from the U.S. DoE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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