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Technology news - 29 June 2013

Scientists have discovered a new enzyme that could prove an important step in the quest to turn waste such as paper, wood waste and straw, into liquid fuel according to the  Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

To do this they turned to the destructive power of tiny marine wood-borers called ‘gribble’, which have been known to destroy seaside piers.

Using advanced biochemical analysis and X-ray imaging techniques, researchers from the University of York, University of Portsmouth and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the USA have determined the structure and function of a key enzyme used by gribble to break down wood. The findings will help the researchers to reproduce the enzymes effects on an industrial scale in a bid to create sustainable liquid biofuels.

To create liquid fuel from woody biomass, the polysaccharides or sugar polymers that make up the bulk of these materials have to be broken down into simple sugars. These are then fermented to produce liquid biofuels. This is a difficult process that is currently too expensive to be commercially viable.

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