Fungi enzyme could prompt further use of wood as biofuel

To date, the expensive and time-consuming pre-treatment process required for the degradation of wood has inhibited its viability as a widely-used biofuel source. 

This is due to carbohydrate molecules called xylans found in wood biomass being highly resistant to degradation.

An enzyme family occurring in a particular types of fungi has been found to break down xylans and release nutrients into soil. Scientists from the University of York’s Department of Chemistry saw this as an opportunity to adapt the process for use in the production of biofuels. 

The research has been almost a decade in the making, with the scientists initially discovering this natural degradation process in 2010. Eight years later, they have published a paper detailing their findings on how the process can be applied in generating biofuel.

This discovery could have the potential to lower the cost of processing timber at the end of its useful life for biofuel.

However, the technology, if developed, will need to be carefully managed and controlled to prevent the potential for damage to wood still in service, and to maintain public confidence in the structural durability and resilience of wood used in construction.

The paper can be read in full online in the journal: Nature Chemical Biology volume 14, pages 306–310 (2018).