Scientist Wins National Honor for Efforts To Convert Fungus to Fuel

Yale researcher Professor Scott Strobel has been named a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow by the Department of Defense (DOD) in recognition of his efforts to convert chemical byproducts of a Patagonian fungus into an alternate fuel source.

Strobel, the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and professor of chemistry, has requested $4.4 million from the highly competitive DOD fellow's competition to pursue the goal of creating diesel fuel from fungi.

The promising fungus was discovered several years ago by Strobel's father, Gary Strobel of Montana State University, during a trip to Chile.

The elder Strobel is an international expert on endophytes, microorganisms within plants that have bioactive properties of potential use as antibiotics and other medicines and for bioremediation. Gary Strobel mentioned the fungus with interesting properties to his son during a recent field trip with Yale undergraduates to the Amazon in search of novel endophytes, part of a course funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Yale researchers are now studying how the fungus creates chemical byproducts nearly indistinguishable from diesel fuel. Their goal is to scale up a process to create fuel from microorganisms found within ordinary fungi and bacteria.

A grant from the fellowship will allow Strobel to investigate whether a fermentation process using cellulose-based waste feedstock can produce commercial amounts of fuel from the fungus. The process aims to be carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly.

Strobel will also study the mechanism of medium chain-length hydrocarbon biosynthesis to determine whether the fuel produced is a suitable substitute for diesel and kerosene fuels used by the military. The work will be done in collaboration with Mitchell D. Smooke, the Strathcona Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Applied Physics at Yale, and Gary Strobel.