[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
There’s a push now to find the fuel of the future. Will it come from corn? Sugarcane? How about bugs? University of Florida entomologist Michael Scharf says termites may play a major role. He makes that claim in the November issue of the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining.
Termites produce enzymes. Those enzymes work with microorganisms in the bug’s gut. When termites munch their way through your house, the enzymes and microbes together turn wood into simple sugars. Biofuels today come from edible plant material, such as starch in corn or sugar in sugarcane. There’s a great deal of potential energy in tougher parts of the plants, but it’s locked in something called lignocellulose. Researchers have been investigating heating the woody material, or grinding it and treating it. And a handful of research groups are studying the termite system.
Scientists have identified a few of the enzymes and microbes involved, but they say it’ll take more research and time to apply this system to our own hunger for biofuels. We may also need to turn to other munching bugs like wood-boring beetles. Maybe someday they’ll be heating our homes, not eating them.