Researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering at London’s Imperial College have developed a biological technique that could significantly enhance processes used to make products such as biofuels and renewable plastics.

Using a new variety of an enzyme, the scientists said they could make products relying on fossil fuel-based materials through a process that broke down plant-based biomass 30 times faster than currently possible, reported Bio-based World News on 4 July.

The research team, led by Alex Brogan, said the new technology could replace the “time consuming and expensive” bioprocessing methods currently used and – if adopted on an industrial scale – could cut fossil fuel-related carbon emissions by 80-100%.

Brogan said that he and his colleagues had modified the glucosidase enzyme that helped break down biomass’ complex carbohydrates, such as cellulose, into glucose that could be further fermented into ethanol.

“We’ve made bioprocessing faster, which will require less equipment and will reduce carbon footprint. One major advantage of this will be increased biofuel production, potentially helping biofuels become more widespread,” said Brogan.

The enzyme could withstand temperatures up to 137°C, 95% higher than most currently used enzymes that stopped being effective in temperatures surpassing 70°C.

The increased stability of the new enzyme also meant that it could be used in ionic liquids, which also destroyed most enzymes.