Over his 50-year career, Montana State University plant pathologist Gary Strobel has traveled to all seven continents to collect samples of endophytes from remote and sometimes dangerous places. Endophytes are microorganisms–bacteria and fungi–that live within the living tissue of a plant.
With support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), Strobel, engineer Brent Peyton and their team at Montana State University have discovered that endophytes have the ability to make diesel-like fuel.
All of us use water and in the process, a lot of it goes to waste. Whether it goes down drains, sewers or toilets, much of it ends up at a wastewater treatment plant where it undergoes rigorous cleaning before it flows back to the environment. The process takes time, money and a lot of energy. What if that wastewater could be turned into energy? It almost sounds too good to be true, but environmental engineer Bruce Logan is working on ways to make it happen.
One hydrocarbon-producing fungus comes from the Ulmo tree of Patagonia. Another is a citrus fungus from Florida. And, amazingly, it takes the team just a few weeks to create the fuel.
Strobel says the long-term goal is to improve the process of using microbes that degrade plant material, especially agricultural waste, to make economically feasible quantities of hydrocarbons. He adds fungi and bacteria hold great potential for breakthroughs in medicine, plastics and green chemistry as well.