April 18, 2007 / 12:25 PM / 13 years ago

Elephant dung helps scientists develop new biofuel

Elephants cool off at the river in Addo elephant park outside Port Elizabeth February 27, 2007. Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered a fungus in elephant dung that will help them break down fibers and wood into biofuel. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered a fungus in elephant dung that will help them break down fibers and wood into biofuel.

Bioethanol firms currently extract sugars from crops like grains and sugar beet, but some are developing technologies to extract energy from fiber such as wheat bran, straw or wood.

Scientists working for Royal Nedalco, the Delft University of Technology and a firm called Bird Engineering have found a fungus in elephant dung that helped them produce a yeast which can efficiently ferment wood sugars.

“We really see this as a technical breakthrough,” business development manager Mark Woldberg from Royal Nedalco, a Dutch alcohol maker, told a biofuels conference on Wednesday.

Production based on the new method can start at the firm’s plant in Sas van Gent in 2009, though it will take longer for most of the new feedstocks to become commercially viable.

“For wheat residues we believe we can be cost competitive in quite a short time, I’ve mentioned five years,” Woldberg said.

“Converting wood into ethanol will take some more time.”

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