WORCESTER, Mass. — Researchers have found a way to turn bamboo into biofuel, a process that could have major implications for the future of the clean energy industry.
"This is a simple and yet cost-effective process," said Ali Salifu, a researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
Originally from Ghana, Salifu understands just how hard it is for developing nations to maintain any source of normalcy when it comes to power.
"There were times we didn't have fuels to run our cars," he said.
So, Salifu has turned his attention to a plant that grows seemingly everywhere in his native country: bamboo.
"Instead of relying on petroleum-based fuels, we have alternatives," he added.
A team of researchers at WPI has discovered that if ball-milled in a specific way, they can break down the chemical makeup of bamboo. The byproducts of the plants can then be converted into simple sugars which can be fermented into ethanol.
In a place like sub-Saharan Africa, bamboo requires much less fertile land to grow, so producing large fields of it for biofuel wouldn't be competing with the land needed for producing food.
Mike Timko, another researcher on the project, says the ground-up bamboo could even be the building blocks for things like antibiotics.
"This is not your fragile houseplant you over water and kills it; this is a tough plant you can’t kill it no matter what you do," Timko said.
Bamboo is considered one of the largest members of the grass family. The implications this all could have on the biofuel industry though are much larger than the plant itself.