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Far from the white coats of the lab and deep in the unknown, one Deakin microbiology student may have discovered a green solution to the world’s energy problems. A rare form of bacteria collected from a hot spring in a Himalayan cave is offering hope for a cleaner planet.
As part of her PhD in microbiology, Deakin student Nisha Singh is currently undertaking a six-month project with Dr Munish Puri, a leading researcher in the field of industrial biotechnology. She’s been lucky enough to spend time completing field work in India as part of a Deakin India Research initiative.
While exploring remote parts of India, Ms Singh stumbled upon a unique kind of bacterial diversity. To the untrained eye, it looked like a mossy cave. But researcher Ms Singh saw tremendous potential. ‘High-altitude habitats are undisturbed by human activity and so the bacteria there has unique properties that can pave the way for the production of ethanol. Ethanol is carbon neutral – a green fuel that can be blended with petrol or used in pure form,’ says Ms Singh.
'The bacteria has unique properties that can pave the way for the production of ethanol. Ethanol is carbon neutral – a green fuel that can be blended with petrol or used in pure form.'
PhD Student, Deakin University
‘To understand the significance of this, we need to look at the global context,’ says Dr Puri. Dangerous global warming and agreements to combat global warming, such as the Paris Climate Deal, are increasing demand to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. And so researchers worldwide are seeking to develop renewable biofuels, including ethanol, to help reduce emissions. ‘It’s not just in how we power our world. Ethanol is part of our day-to-day lives. It’s used in the production of everything from medicines to alcohol,’ explains Dr Puri.
Ms Singh’s discovery in unique because it provides a cost-efficient way to source ethanol. Biomass – the bacteria she harvested – is collected from forest residues such as trees and grass, agricultural by-products, organic wastes and energy crops. But in countries such as India, where space is limited, energy options are limited too. Ms Singh’s discovery means India has a new way to produce renewable biofuels.
Ms Singh is excited about the potential for collaboration to grow her project and help industries transition to renewable energy sources. She’s working with IndianOil as part of a partnership with Deakin to further her research: ‘IndianOil is one of the premier energy organisations in India, with access to the whole Indian market. The relationship between Deakin and IndianOil means that, together, we can extend our research to the industrial scale.’
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