A+ A-

Fuel for the future


With dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a global energy crisis is looming. It is estimated that current global oil reserves will only last another 53 years, while coal and natural gas reserves will only stretch to another 109 and 56 years, respectively.

Our current fuel sources may be at risk, but their impact on our planet continues. Greenhouse gasses emitted when burning these fuels are devastating the environment and impacting our efforts to slow climate change. Developing sustainable, alternative energy strategies – that are also environmentally friendly – has become vitally important across the globe.


Could a heat-resistant microorganism capable of thriving on the edge of volcanoes, hydrothermal vents and in hot springs provide us with such a sustainable strategy? According to Dr Pieter De Maayer, Research Fellow at the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics, it may just! He uses cutting-edge technologies to unlock this microorganism's potential for the biological production of alternative energy sources, more specifically biofuel.

Dr De Maayer has been studying how the microorganism Geobacillus can effectively degrade hemicellulose – the polymers in cell walls – into simple sugars, which in turn can be converted into biofuel. "The discovery led me to the idea to genetically engineer a hemicellulose superdegrader Geobacillus strain. It will be able to convert multiple types of hemicellulose found in mixed sources, such as municipal and agro-forestry waste," explains Dr De Maayer.

Dr Pieter De Maayer

He is also studying a Geobacillus strain which can efficiently turn waste gases, which contain carbon monoxide, into hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is tipped as the alternative fuel for the future.


Dr De Maayer believes that we are currently only scratching the surface in this field.

To date, he has screened a large number of Geobacillus isolates capable of degrading different hemicelluloses. This research has been coupled with cutting-edge genomic technologies to identify the genes responsible for this capacity. Dr De Maayer is currently incorporating the different genes into a single strain through genetic engineering. It will form the hemicellulose degrader, which will soon be tested for its capacity to degrade waste.

Collaborating with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, and partly funded by the German government, he has proven that his Geobacillus strain can produce huge yields of hydrogen gas and that it is the aerobic bacterium to do so using a mechanism previously only reported in anaerobic microorganisms. “This strain may have major implications for commercial hydrogen production. We are currently working on patenting it and optimising the production process,” says Dr De Maayer.  

For more information, contact Dr De Maayer on: [email protected]

For an overview of his research, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Pieter_De_Maayer

Image Gallery

Privacy Policy

The University is firmly committed to protecting the privacy of users of the website. No personal information about users of this website will be disclosed to a third party without the prior consent thereto by the user. (Personal information shall at all times be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013).)

The University reserves the right to automatically collect information on users' usage of the website (for example, via cookies) in order to improve users' browsing and interaction with the University and for non-personal statistical purposes.

Changes to this privacy policy

The University reserves the right to change, amend, or update this privacy policy periodically.

Modifications to the website

The University reserves the right to modify, change, amend or discontinue the website (or any part thereof) temporarily or permanently, without prior notice.


The University may provide links to other websites or resources. This does not imply the University's endorsement of such sites. The University does not have any control over these websites and will, therefore, not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising from the utilisation of these websites by users.

The University does not prohibit third-party sites to link to publicly visible content on this website. However, it is expressly prohibited for any third party to frame any page on this website in any way whatsoever without the prior written approval of the University.

University of Pretoria proprietary rights

The copyright and other intellectual property rights (which include the University’s brand and logo), which are owned by or licensed to the University, existing in and attaching to this website, are the property of the University. These include but are not limited to text, content, design, layout, graphics, organisation, digital conversion and other information related to the website.

Users are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable licence to:

  • access and use this website strictly in accordance with these terms;
  • use this website solely for personal, non-commercial purposes; and
  • download or print out or distribute content from the website, or any part thereof, solely for personal, non-commercial purposes, provided that all copyright and other intellectual property notices therein are unchanged.

Any reproduction of the content of this website, or a portion thereof, must include the following copyright notice: ©University of Pretoria. Users who wish to use the content from this website for commercial purposes may only do so with prior written permission from the University.


This website is for information purposes only. No representations or warranties are given by the University of Pretoria (hereafter referred to as the University) regarding the accuracy of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website. Any reliance by the user on any information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website, is at the user’s own risk and the University shall not be liable in any way whatsoever in respect of the user or any other person, directly or indirectly, arising from the utilisation of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website.

The user hereby agrees that in the event of any dispute arising from the utilisation of this website in any manner, form or substance whatsoever, the relevant South African law will apply and the appropriate courts of South Africa will have jurisdiction.

Terms & Conditions

By accessing this website, the user hereby agrees to the following:

The use of this website is at the user’s sole risk. This website is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. The University gives no warranty that (i) the information posted on this website will meet the user’s requirements; (ii) the information posted on this website will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, virus free or error free; and (iii) the information posted on this website will be accurate or reliable.

Any material downloaded from or otherwise obtained through this website is utilised at the user’s own risk, and the user will, therefore, be liable for any and all damages of any nature whatsoever arising from such utilisation of the website.

Limitation of liability

The user expressly understands and agrees that the University shall not be liable for any damages (subject to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act 68 of 2008) (even if the University has been advised of the possibility of such damages) resulting from: (i) the use or the inability to use the website; (ii) the cost of procurement of substitute goods and services resulting from any data, information or services obtained or messages received or transactions entered into through the website; (iii) unauthorised access to or alteration of the user’s transmissions or data; (iv) statements or conduct of any third party on the website; or (v) any other matter relating to the website.