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IIT-Mandi Researchers Convert Cellulose Waste into Valuable Chemicals

IIT-Mandi Researchers have discovered microbial couples capable of converting cellulose, a primary component of agricultural waste and paper products, into valuable chemicals, biofuels, and carbon suitable for use in various industrial applications.

Shivam Dwivedi
IIT-Mandi Researchers Convert Cellulose Waste into Valuable Chemicals  (Photo Source: IIT Mandi Website)
IIT-Mandi Researchers Convert Cellulose Waste into Valuable Chemicals (Photo Source: IIT Mandi Website)

Indian Institute of Technology, IIT Mandi, researchers have identified microbial pairs that can effectively convert cellulose (a major component present in Agriculture residue and paper waste) into useful chemicals, biofuels, and carbon suitable for several industrial applications.

Their breakthrough findings were published in ‘Bioresource Technology Reports,’ and the approach has already been patented and is being scaled up for commercial use.

Plant dry matter, or lignocellulose, is a readily available and abundant renewable resource on Earth. Agricultural waste, wood, and industrial waste can be transformed into valuable compounds such as bioethanol, biodiesel, lactic acid, and fatty acids through bioprocessing.

However, the traditional method is expensive and involves numerous complex processes that can release unwanted compounds, requiring multiple washing and separation steps. Scientists are exploring consolidated bioprocessing (CBP), a novel technology that combines saccharification and fermentation, to convert lignocellulosic biomass into valuable compounds.

Associate Professor Shyam Kumar Masakapalli at IIT Mandi explained that a synthetic microbial consortium (SynCONS), which is a mixture of different microorganisms, is one way to achieve CBP. Two types of microbes are chosen, one for saccharification and the other for fermentation.

Using thermophilic consortia, which are stable at high temperatures, is particularly beneficial since fermentation is a heat-releasing process. The researchers examined two SynCONS systems for cellulose processing, which were then followed by pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is a process that decomposes organic materials by heating them over 500 degrees Celsius in the absence of oxygen, and integrated with microbial bioprocessing.

This approach has several advantages. First, SynCONS enables simultaneous saccharification and fermentation of cellulose, reducing the number of processing steps and improving efficiency. Second, by integrating pyrolysis with microbial bioprocessing, it's possible to achieve a high yield of valuable products, including biofuels and chemicals, while minimizing unwanted byproducts.

Third, the use of thermophilic consortia can improve the stability and robustness of the system, making it more resilient to fluctuations in temperature and other environmental factors. The potential applications of this technology are vast, including the conversion of agricultural waste into valuable products and the reduction of our reliance on non-renewable resources.

Moreover, the technology's efficiency and sustainability make it an attractive option for a range of industries. With the patent secured and scaling up underway, this promising breakthrough could revolutionize the field of bioprocessing and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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