Blaschek, a U of I professor of food microbiology, has been using his patented, genetically modified organism Clostridium beijerinkii to convert corn into butanol, a promising alternative to petroleum-based fuels, since the 1990s.
"But now we have a map of the genome of this 'bug' that we use to cause fermentation of corn co-products, creating butanol in the process," he said.
"And the information we receive from our analysis of the genome will allow us to develop a road map for C. beijerinckii, developing a second-generation strain of the microorganism that should be even more effective."
C. beijerinckii was chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy for gene mapping in 2004. The work was conducted at the Joint Genome Institute in California.
Blaschek has also identified a recovery technology called gas stripping that will allow scientists to produce butanol inexpensively without the fouling that might occur if another technique involving membranes were used.
The scientist believes butanol has enormous potential as a replacement for petroleum-based fuel. "Butanol has a higher octane rating than ethanol; and, unlike ethanol, it can be stored under humid conditions without picking up water in pipelines."
Butanol can also be used as a feedstock chemical for producing polymers and plastics.
Demand for butenol could translate into the utilization of 400 million additional bushels of corn or the equivalent amount of agricultural biomass in the United States annually, making farmers as well as drivers happy, he said.
Blaschek's future plans include continuing his collaboration with industrial partners to scale up the butanol fermentation with the current strain of C. beijerinkii, examining distillers' grains and different types of corn fiber as substrates for butanol production, and developing a second-generation strain of the microorganism.
Blaschek was the principal organizer for the conference on Sustainable Bioenergy: Focus on the Future of Biofuels and Chemicals, held April 13-14 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The event was co-sponsored by Argonne National Laboratory and the USDA National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research. -30-