Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2011-02-28 06:15:00
  • Article ID: 573862

This Microbe's for You: Brewery Waste Becomes Scientific Fodder for Producing Liquid Biofuels

Blaine Friedlander

(607) 254-8093

bpf2@cornell.edu

ITHACA, N.Y. – Gaining new insight into how efficiently the microbes in large bioreactors produce methane from brewery waste, Cornell scientists hope to use their new knowledge to shape these microbial communities to produce liquid biofuels and other useful products.

The scientists Largus T. Angenent, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, and the first author and research associate Jeffrey J. Werner, published "Bacterial Community Structures Are Unique and Resilient in Full-Scale Bioenergy Systems" (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb. 22, 2011.)

The scientists had access to a plethora of data, thanks to a collaboration with engineers at Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser beer and operates nine domestic beer breweries that treat wastewater in bioreactors. They took regular samples of bioreactor sludge from each of the facilities over the course of a year and, using state-of-the-art genome sequencing software, they analyzed more than 400,000 gene sequences of the microbes in the sludge.

Among the thousands of species of bacteria, the researchers identified 145 types that were unique to each of the nine facilities -- showing that each bioreactor hosted a specific microbial community. In their analysis they observed that certain types of bacteria called syntrophs had surprisingly stable populations.

"The cool thing we found was that if you're looking at these thousands of species of bacteria, it's a very dynamic system with things dying off and replacing them," Werner said. "There are certain signature populations that are resilient. Even if they get disturbed, they come right back up."

Typically inside these million-gallon bioreactor tanks, the microbial populations in the sludge interact and one of them produces methane gas. Anheuser-Busch InBev recoups 20 percent of its heat energy use through the methane produced, saving the company millions of dollars every year.

Angenent said that where the genome surveys of these microbial communities could lead is particularly exciting. Understanding their functions and how they change with environment -- be it pH or temperature, for example -- could lead to learning how to make the communities of microbes perform new functions.

In ongoing research, the Cornell engineers are looking to prevent methane production by the microbes, and instead, to shape the bacterial communities to produce carboxylates, which are a precursor to the alkanes found in fuels.

"We are going to shape these communities so they start making what we want," Angenent said.

The researchers also collaborated with scientists at University of Colorado at Boulder and at Washington University in St. Louis. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and National Institutes of Health.

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Magnetic Curve Balls

A twisted array of atomic magnets were driven to move in a curved path, a needed level of control for use in future memory devices.

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Microbe Mystery Solved: What Happened to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Plume

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists haven't agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now a research team at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

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New research by Berkeley Lab scientists could help usher in a new generation of high-definition displays, optoelectronic devices, photodetectors, and more. They have shown that a class of "soft" semiconductors can be used to emit multiple, bright colors from a single nanowire at resolutions as small as 500 nanometers. The work could challenge quantum dot displays that rely upon traditional semiconductor nanocrystals to emit light.

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A new strategy for sending acoustic waves through water could potentially open up the world of high-speed communications to divers, marine research vessels, remote ocean monitors, deep sea robots, and submarines. By taking advantage of the dynamic rotation generated as the acoustic wave travels, also known as its orbital angular momentum, Berkeley Lab researchers were able to pack more channels onto a single frequency, effectively increasing the amount of information capable of being transmitted.

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With SLAC's X-ray laser and synchrotron, scientists measured exactly how much energy goes into keeping a crucial chemical bond from triggering a cell's death spiral.


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Protein Data Takes Significant Step Forward in Medicine

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oregon Health & Science University are part of a nationwide effort to learn more about the role of proteins in cancer biology and to use that information to benefit cancer patients.

The Electrochemical Society and Toyota North America Announce 2017-2018 Fellowship Winners for Projects in Green Energy Technology

The ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship Selection Committee has chosen three winners who will receive $50,000 fellowship awards each for projects in green energy technology. The awardees are Dr. Ahmet Kusoglu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Professor Julie Renner, Case Western Reserve University; and Professor Shuhui Sun, Institut National de la Rechersche Scientifique (INRS).

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Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.


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Graphene Ribbons Result in 100-Fold Increase in Gold Catalyst's Performance

Bottom-up synthesis of tunable carbon nanoribbons provides a new route to enhance industrial, automotive reactions.

Breaking the Rules to Make Electricity from Waste Heat

More atomic bonds is the key for performance in a newly discovered family of cage-structured compounds.

Magnetic Curve Balls

A twisted array of atomic magnets were driven to move in a curved path, a needed level of control for use in future memory devices.

New "Gold Standard" for Flexible Electronics

Simple, economical process makes large-diameter, high-performance, thin, transparent, and conductive foils for bendable LEDs and more.

New Class of Porous Materials Better Separates Carbon Dioxide from Other Gases

Enhanced stability in the presence of water could help reduce smokestack emissions of greenhouse gases.

Manipulating Earth-Abundant Materials to Harness the Sun's Energy

New material based on common iron ore can help turn intermittent sunlight and water into long-lasting fuel.

Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.


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