"When Americans think about biofuel crops, they think of corn, miscanthus, and switchgrass. ln small island or peninsular nations, though, the natural, obvious choice is marine biomass," said Yong-Su Jin, a U of I assistant professor of microbial genomics and a faculty member in its Institute for Genomic Biology.
Producers of biofuels made from terrestrial biomass crops have had difficulty breaking down recalcitrant fibers and extracting fermentable sugars. The harsh pretreatment processes used to release the sugars also resulted in toxic byproducts, inhibiting subsequent microbial fermentation, he said.
But marine biomass can be easily degraded to fermentable sugars, and production rates and range of distribution are higher than terrestrial biomass, he said.
"However, making biofuels from red seaweed has been problematic because the process yields both glucose and galactose, and until now galactose fermentation has been very inefficient," he said.
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