Rapid Industrialization and technology development have placed a high demand on fossil fuels and other energy sources. While fossil fuels are still the most efficient of the energy sources, their adverse effects on the climate along with diminishing oil reserves, has prompted scientists to look for other, environmentally friendly options of fuels. While renewable energy alternatives like solar and wind, can be quite expensive, cheaper alternatives have been the quest for many scientists. One of the promising candidates has been Biofuels.
Biofuels are generally produced through biological processes, like agriculture and anaerobic digestion. Plants, algae and even industrial waste can be turned into biofuels. Bioethanol, biodiesels and other bio-alcohols are the usual products, which are either used directly as a fuel source or as an additive to conventional fuel sources, like ethanol and diesel, to decrease vehicle emissions. But, creating biofuels come with their own drawbacks. Unavailability of resources and enzymes (for catalysis) and low efficiency of the known biofuels are the common obstacles when compared to fossil fuels. To overcome the obstacles, scientists have been trying to develop new technologies, processes or new combinations, that could help improve the shortcomings of biofuels. To advance research in the field, access to information is a key challenge.
Now, scientists from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, have addresses this challenge by developing a database for biofuels. They have collected all the information available about the different enzymes used at the different stages of biofuel production. Using an indigenously developed search and prediction tool named ‘Benz’, the scientists identified and classified 131 enzymes with a role in biofuel production. The enzymes were classified on the final product they helped make, identifying four broad application categories – Biodiesel production, Fuel Cells, Alcohol Production and Alternative Biofuels. The Benz tool scanned many abstracts in the popular journal PubMed and other open access information to identify keywords, and then select the enzymes. The tool also identified 153,754 novel homologues of biofuel enzymes, which are similar enzymes performing different functions. The study promises to become a guide book for other researchers to advance the field of biofuels.