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Around the Quad

This Microbe’s for You, and Your Car

Stacey Shackford

Brewery byproducts could become the next biofuel, thanks to research by Largus T. Angenent, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, and his research associate Jeffrey J. Werner.

Employing powerful genome sequencing tools and brawny million-gallon bioreactor tanks at Anheuser-Busch, the scientists studied how efficiently microbes can produce methane from brewery waste. Typically the microbial populations in the sludge tanks interact and one of them produces methane gas. Anheuser-Busch recoups 20 percent of its heat energy use through the methane produced, saving them millions of dollars every year.

Angenent’s group analyzed more than 400,000 gene sequences of the microbes in the sludge, identified unique microbial communities, and monitored their characteristics. They hope to use their new knowledge to make the microbial communities produce carboxylates, which are a precursor to the alkanes found in fuel.