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article imageTunicates, a new biofuel source

By Tim Sandle     Jun 30, 2013 in Science
Tiny marine creatures called tunicates are being studied in relation to biofuels. Tunicates are seen as a potential source of cellulose, which can be used to produce ethanol.
Considerable research and development, not to mention finance, is being put into the development of biofuels. The alcohol based fuels, made from organic matter (mainly plant material) represent the most likely future energy strategy to counteract the decline of fossil fuels.
The development of biofuels has so far been relatively inefficient, one reason for these is the scarcity in relation to the raw material needed to create the new generation of fuels. The bioethanol produced today is unsustainable because it comes from foods already used for human consumption.
However, scientists think that they have a new source: tunicates. Tunicates are marine filter feeders with a sac-like body structure. Various species are commonly known as sea squirts, sea pork or sea tulips. Tunicates contain a host of potentially useful chemical compounds, including didemnins, which are effective against various types of cancer.
There is something else special about tunicates: they are the only animal known to produce cellulose. Cellulose is seen as a key raw material for biofuel production, where certain bacteria are used to metabolize cellulose to produce ethanol.
The potential use of tunicates has been examined by researchers based at the University of Bergen, who have farmed tunicates taken from a Norwegian fjord on a small scale (according to Giagom).
The initial examinations have been successful, and the scientists plan to scale up the study, with the project running through 2014.
More about Biofuel, Sea, Energy, tunicates, Bacteria
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