"Fungi-to-Fuel" Effort Nets Defense Department Fellowship for Yale Biochemist
Yale University Professor Scott Strobel has been named a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow by the Department of Defense in recognition of his efforts to convert chemical byproducts of a Patagonian fungus into an alternate fuel source.
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 University 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 aim 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, Strathcona Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Applied Physics at Yale and Gary Strobel at MSU.