A bioprospecting expedition to Iceland’s famed hot springs has yielded new strains of bacteria with potential of producing hydrogen and ethanol fuels from wastewater now discharged from factories that process sugar beets, potatoes and other plant material. The microbes hold potential for combining energy production with wastewater treatment, according to a report on the discovery scheduled for the Jan./Feb. issue of ACS’ Energy & Fuels.

In the study, Perttu E. P. Koskinen and colleagues point out that ethanol and hydrogen are two leading eco-friendly candidates for supplementing world supplies of oil, coal, and other conventional fuels. Research suggests that there would be advantages in producing those fuels by fermentation with bacteria capable of withstanding higher temperatures than microbes now in use.

Knowing that thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacteria inhabit Iceland’s hot springs, the scientists “bioprospected” scalding-hot geothermal springs in different parts of the country for new ethanol and hydrogen-producing bacteria. After screening samples, including those from springs that approached the boiling point of water, the scientists enriched promising microorganisms that can produce the compounds from glucose or cellulose at high temperatures. The enrichments included those with unusually high yields of hydrogen or ethanol from carbohydrates.

ARTICLE: “Bioprospecting Thermophilic Microorganisms from Icelandic Hot Springs for Hydrogen and Ethanol Production”, http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/sample.cgi/enfuem/asap/html/ef700275w.html