TOLEDO (TDB) -- Researchers at the University of Toledo's environmental engineering and chemisty department have been using genetically-altered e. coli bacteria, yeast and commercial enzymes in a series of experiments that are an attempt to enhance ethanol fermentation from beer brewery wastewater.
If successful, the project could bring a whole new meaning to the old saying, "Have one for the road." It might even revive shuttered Great Lakes shipyards, where supertankards might someday be built to slosh the ethanol to refineries. "Milwaukee's finest" would mean the best gasoline at the pumps.
The research in Toledo has been under way for some time. And while it sounds outlandish -- beer into fuel -- the labwork actually represents one of many serious efforts under way across the Midwest to ease the nation's costly addiction to imported oil. In a report about the beer project published recently in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Applied Microbiological Biotechnology, four researchers at the University of Toledo said they used common yeast and a genetically modified strain of e. coli known as KO11 in their ethanol recipe.
Right now, most of the nation's 4.4 billion gallons of ethanol production (2005 figure) comes from corn. By the end of this year, more than 35 million tons of corn will be used to make ethanol. The Toledo scientists figured that corn is too valuable as food -- lots of people around the world are going hungry -- and other sources for ethanol production ought to be checked out. They say flat out that the use of corn ''is criticized as an inefficient use of food," and stuff poured down sewers holds promise for easing fuel costs.
''In this study, we have used brewery wastewater collected from a local brewery as a feedstock,'' the team wrote. "This feedstock is readily available and is of no competitive value. Also, brewery wastes are relatively easier to hydrolize than raw biomass wastes and they have high biodegradable organics. The wastewater used in our study was the one obtained when water was used to extract the desired sugars from crushed malt in the brewing process. This liquid extract called wort is separated from the spent grains, the barley grains after saccharification."
Bottomline: Yeast and the bio-engineered e.coli turned the brewery stock into ethanol when enzymes were added, and the "enzymes were observed to echance the ethanol yields by 61-84% as compared to the fermentation without enzymes."
Tavern owners, brewers and beer drinkers everywhere should take heart. Maybe they should even toast these researchers. The experiments probably signal their vice won't face the same fate as smoking cigarettes, which was banned in all public places in Ohio Thursday after a November referendum.