The question “Discuss several ways in which microorganisms can help in meeting the current fuel shortage." was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 3. Let us look at the model answer to this question.
Answer: Microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae are tiny life forms that hold potential to offer sustainable and eco friendly solutions to our energy demands.
Ways in which microorganisms can contribute in meeting the current fuel shortage
- Biogas: Organic matter is broken down by Anaerobic microorganisms in the absence of oxygen to produce biogas, primarily methane (CH4). Biogas can then be used for electricity generation and as a vehicle fuel.
- Bioethanol: Fermentation process (using yeast) is used to convert sugars from various sources, like corn, sugarcane, or switchgrass, into bioethanol.
- Biodiesel: Algae can efficiently convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids (oils) that can be converted into biodiesel. Algal biodiesel is considered a promising alternative to fossil fuels.
- Advanced Biofuel Production: Microorganisms can produce some advanced biofuels like butanol and isobutanol that have properties closer to gasoline and diesel.
- Microbial Fuel Cells- Electricity is generated directly from organic matter like wastewater using the metabolic activity of microorganisms.
- Carbon Capture and Utilization- Microorganisms can capture and convert carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes into biofuels. This can not only solve fuel shortage but also reduce greenhouse emissions.
- Bioremediation- Some oil eating bacteria can clean up oil spills while accumulating lipids suitable for biofuel production.
- Hydrogen fuel- Fermentation of biomass can also produce hydrogen gas, which is considered a clean and efficient energy carrier.
Some microorganisms being used for the above purposes are Algae (e.g., Chlorella and Spirulina), Bacteria (e.g., Clostridium and Escherichia coli) and Yeasts (e.g., Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Hence, they offer solutions to reduce not only the fuel shortage leading to higher crude prices but are also environmentally friendly.