In Thailand, the demand for fuel has risen following rapid increase of population. Because most fuel is exported, Thai economy suffers. Recently, biodiesel, which can be produced domestically from plant oil, is thought to becoming the next source of fuel. But the raw material is not sufficiently pacifying the rising demands hence the pressing need for new quality raw materials. Apparently, oil from fungus offers potential.
This so-called “high-fat fungus” does not only grow rapidly but apparently contains oil in its cell that offers the same property as vegetable oil. This mysterious oil apparently can be turned into biodiesel.
The obstacle in cultivating the high-fat fungus enough to be used at an industrial level is due to high cost. There have been research efforts to find ways to lowering such cost including utilizing agricultural or industrial leftovers. These leftovers or waste products are now commonly available all over the south of Thailand due to growing number of palm oil refineries around the region. These waste products are lignocellulose – palm fiber, bare palm, and coconut shells –and are challenging to break down. If burned inside a power plant, for example, they cause sulfur residues inside the pipeline, a definite environmental threat. Using them to grow mushroom or compost requires too small an amount that would not keep up with the fast growing waste that occurs daily, also another an environmental hazard. Palm oil refineries can thus become competitive if factoring in the environmentally-sound operation such as recycling the waste efficiently. The lignocellulosic products must first be broken down into sugar by acid or enzyme before can be used to cultivate high fat fungus. Though, if the fungus has built-in enzyme to break down the lignocellulose then the cultivation can occur directly onto these materials, which not only would lessen the cost and production time but also produce more diverse fatty acids.
This research offers innovative knowledge about producing renewable energy out of waste materials via biological process that is more cost-effective and environmentally-responsible while maximizing recycling of natural resources and reducing waste and agricultural raw materials. Ultimately, the methodology can be applied and add value to domestic renewable energy production, reduce dependency on export, and provide sustainable energy in Thailand.