Everything might be bigger in Texas, but some scientists in the state are looking to tiny yeast cells to yield big feedstocks for biodiesel. This news release from the University of Texas at Austin says researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering have developed genetically engineered yeast cells to produce the lipids to go into biodiesel production.
Assistant professor Hal Alper, in the Cockrell School’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, along with his team of students, created the new cell-based platform. Given that the yeast cells grow on sugars, Alper calls the biofuel produced by this process “a renewable version of sweet crude.”
The UT Austin research team was able to rewire yeast cells to enable up to 90 percent of the cell mass to become lipids, which can then be used to produce biodiesel.
“To put this in perspective, this lipid value is approaching the concentration seen in many industrial biochemical processes,” Alper said. “You can take the lipids formed and theoretically use it to power a car.”
“We took a starting yeast strain of Yarrowia lipolytica, and we’ve been able to convert it into a factory for oil directly from sugar,” Alper said. “This work opens up a new platform for a renewable energy and chemical source.”
The researchers say the biodiesel they get from the yeast is similar to the high quality biodiesel now made from soybean oil. But the yeast won’t take up any land and can be more easily genetically manipulated to get more oils from the yeast.