Portsmouth scientists make a big step in turning wood into liquid fuel

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SCIENTISTS at the Universities of Portsmouth have discovered a new enzyme that could prove vital in the quest to turn waste paper, wood and straw into liquid fuel.

Dr Simon Cragg and Dr John McGeehan, and colleagues made their discovery after examining the gut of gribbles – a tiny marine wood-borer which destroys seaside piers.

Using advanced biochemical analysis and X-ray imaging, researchers in Portsmouth, York and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US, have identified the enzyme.

It allows gribbles to digest enormous quantities of wood and produced the first three-dimensional image of it which reveals how it works.

Dr McGeehan said: ‘This is a truly collaborative and exciting breakthrough.

‘To create liquid fuel from wood and straw, the polysaccharides – 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, but it is a difficult and expensive process.’