Saturday, June 29, 2013

This science buff wants to solve energy crisis

This science buff wants to solve energy crisis
June 29, 2013
For over a year, this 14-year-old has been obsessed with one quest: producing ethanol from rain tree fruits.

Inspired by one of his mentors who works in the field of alternative energy, he wanted to find a brand new method to produce ethanol so it could be mixed with conventional fuels and used in automobiles, says Aman Malali, a Class 10 student at the Kendriya Vidyalaya, Yeshwantpur.

He believes that his research can lead to alternatives or solutions to the fuel crisis. His project was among the top 90 shortlisted for the Google Science Fair 2013 from across the globe.
After many brainstorming sessions with his mentor Geeta Shirnalli, professor at the Department of Microbiology, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) - Dharwad, he decided to experiment with fruits of rain tree as they are rich in cellulose, making them suitable for the process. “Currently ethanol is produced from corn and sugarcane. But with the food crisis in the country, there is a need to find an alternative. So I decided to experiment with rain tree fruits. But I was extremely uncertain till the very end as it is a very laborious process and hasn’t been tried before.”

According to Aman, he collected the fruits, seeded them and cut them into small pieces before mixing them with dilute sulphuric acid. After straining the mixture, he added yeast and let the solution ferment. “The final process was to fractionally distil it to obtain pure alcohol, which is ethanol.”

It wasn’t all a bed of roses for the youngster. Since he needed a professional laboratory he often had to travel to Dharwad to use the UAS facility. The commute was time-consuming but it was well worth it at the end of the day, he says.

Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Agave which is a care free growth plant is the best option to produce biofuel. It may therefore also be ideal for producing biofuels on land unsuited for food production.

In México, there are active research programs and stakeholders investigating Agave spp. as a bioenergy feedstock. The unique physiology of this genus has been exploited historically for the sake of fibers and alcoholic beverages, and there is a wealth of knowledge in the country of México about the life history, genetics, and cultivation of Agave. The State of Jalisco is the denomination of origin of Agave tequilana Weber var. azul, a cultivar primarily used for the production of tequila that has been widely researched to optimize yields. Other cultivars of Agave tequilana are grown throughout México, along with the Agave fourcroydes Lem., or henequen, which is an important source of fiber that has traditionally been used for making ropes. The high sugar content of Agave tequilana may be valuable for liquid fuel production, while the high lignin content of Agave fourcroydes may be valuable for power generation through combustion.

Along with Agave species described above, some other economically important species include A. salmiana, A. angustiana, A. americana, and A. sisalana. Agave sisalana is not produced in México, but has been an important crop in regions of Africa and Australia. Information collected here could thus be relevant to semi-arid regions around the world.

Agave is a CAM Plant. Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis, is a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions in a plant using full CAM, the stomata in the leaves remains shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored as the four-carbon acidmalate, and then used during photosynthesis during the day.

The pre-collected CO2 is concentrated around the enzyme RuBisCO, increasing photosynthetic efficiency. Agave and Opuntia are the best CAM Plants.

Agave Competitive Advantages

* Thrives on dry land/marginal land. Most efficient use of soil, water and light
* Massive production. Year-around harvesting
* Very high yields with very low or no inputs
* Very high quality biomass and sugars
* Very low cost of production. Not a commodity, so prices are not volatile
* Very versatile: biofuels, byproducts, chemicals
* World-wide geographical distribution
* Enhanced varieties are ready.

In the debate between Food Vs Fuel, Agave can replace corn and sugar cane in biofuel production.

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