UCLA scientists find way to produce 50% more fuel from sugar

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 8, 2013

California researchers have designed a method that has the potential to produce 50 percent more ethanol out of sugar.

Using the process, the scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, were able to convert all six carbon molecules contained in glucose into acetyl-CoA, a precursor to biofuels. Typically, the process used to produce ethanol and butanol from plant-based materials converts four of the six carbon atoms, leading to a loss of efficiency

“This pathway solved one of the most significant limitations in biofuel production and biorefining: losing one-third of carbon from carbohydrate raw materials,” said James Liao, a professor of chemical engineering at UCLA and the principal investigator on the project. “This limitation was previously thought to be insurmountable.”

Biorefineries today use glycolysis to convert sugar molecules into biofuels, and the remaining glucose carbons are lost as carbon dioxide.

The new process, termed “non-oxidative glycolysis,” draws from enzymes found in several metabolic pathways in nature. The researchers tested the process both in vitro and in a genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria; in both cases, the resulting acetyl-CoA molecules demonstrated higher carbon efficiency.

The study also found that the pathway could be used with the same efficiency on other kinds of sugars that have different numbers of carbon atoms.

“This is a fundamentally new cycle,” said Igor Bogorad, lead author of the study and an engineering researcher at UCLA. “We rerouted the most central metabolic pathway and found a way to increase the production of