Newly-discovered Fungus Breathes Biodiesel

biodiesel Mercedes emblemImage via WikipediaI am (at least temporarily) infused with hope. I’ll tell why more fully in an upcoming post, but some of it you can guess:

It seems possible folks at the top will once again think, listen and act on behalf of “the people”: humanity at large–next term, next decade, next century. I could be wrong, but ignorance is, well, you know.

So perhaps we will rethink biofuels might come from sources other than genetically modified ConAgra-ADM corn©. In the crucial years to come, perhaps science will regain its good name and small labs and enterprises can compete in the actual marketplace of ideas and not just the marketplace of corporate influence. I dunno.

I do know that, in a short conversation with Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels, he rightly dismissed my enthusiasm for algae as a biofuel source–at least for now. “Show me a gallon produced for less than $500 and I’ll listen.” Even so, the common sense of the Sun-Food-Fuel agenda advocated by Michael Pollan and others will keep the photosynthetic efficiency and oily vacuoles of algae on the drawing board.

So I know better than to invest too much zeal toward this end even lower down the feeding chain. But folks, this is the kind of earthy discovery that a hundred years from now MIGHT turn out to be a turning point that bootstraps us out of the dustbin of history. It has recently been discovered that biodiesel components are made (have always been made) by a lowly fungus , newly named, found in-between the cells of a tropical tree.

Gliocladium roseum can even produce the gaseous components of biofuel from cellulose stock–the non-digestible part of wood and agricultural byproducts we produce by the millions of tons each year.

We’ve miles to go (on carbonaceous petroleum no less) before we sleep here, but some day, you may remember you heard it hear first: One word, Benjamin: mycodiesel. (The new plastic? Speaking of which...)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Once thing we can always count on are a continual series of discoveries that eventually bootstrap us out of the dustbin of history. They’re far more reliable than the concurrent predictions of doom that are also always with us. 🙂

    It’s comforting to know that I live in some future person’s dustbin.