Lost among the stories about the ongoing election, NPR's "Day to Day" program on Tuesday carried a bit about a really interesting fungus, recently discovered. The discoverer, Dr. Gary Strobel of Montana State, described the organism as an endophyte -- an entity that lives within plants -- and its most interesting property (at least to my ears) as the fact that it puts out a liquid which is directly usable as a fully satisfactory diesel fuel. (Please note: this isn't something that can be refined into diesel fuel, this is diesel fuel directly as its excreted by the fungus.) Strobel calls his fuel "myco-diesel".
Diesel engines, of course, are extremely foregiving when it comes to fuel requirements. Petroleum middle-distillates (other than gasoline), various alcohols, liquified animal fats, even whiskey (in dire emergencies only, of course!). But a naturally created substance which is directly usable as a fuel is, to my knowledge, a first. (BTW, anything usable as diesel fuel is also usable in oil-burning heaters/furnaces/boilers, so we're not just talking transportation fuels, here.)
Sure, there are lots of implementation issues to be dealt with. But whether we're talking mass cultivation, genetic manipulation, innoculation of plants common to the areas where fuel is in demand (the fungus is native to southern Chile), or industrial-scale bio-mimicry, the prospect of an efficient, non-polluting method of creating energy-dense liquids based on current-cycle carbon is exciting, at the very least.
For those with a tolerance for bio-chemical terminology and detail, Strobel's article as submitted to the journal Microbiology is available here.
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