Biofuel From Bacteria Perfectly Mimics Hydrocarbon Fuel (In The Lab)

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E. Coli bacteria the next source of biofuel? (Image: adonofrio Biology101.org on Flickr)

E. Coli bacteria the next source of biofuel? (Image: adonofrio Biology101.org on Flickr)

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There are many reasons for wanting to wean ourselves off oil, but environmental issues and measuring out dwindling resources are two fairly significant ones.

The trouble is, oil is incredibly convenient. It's energy dense and in cars, we can replenish it in minutes. So how do you take those favorable characterisitcs while reducing the negatives? Biofuels.

A new discovery could make biofuels a better option than ever--if it can be scaled up beyond laboratory tests.

Existing biofuels aren't ideal, lacking the efficiency of fossil fuels and poorly-optimized for current internal combustion engines.

But as the New Scientist reports, scientists are the University of Exeter in the UK have discovered bacteria that produce hydrocarbon chains identical to that of commercial fuel.

The team took genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria and blue-green algae, then spliced them into DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria.

The modified bacteria is then fed glucose. The enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons.

It isn't the first time bacteria has been used to produce fuels, but the importance of this discovery is the similarity of the fuel to those we already use. While that theoretically means the fuel would produce the same pollution and carbon dioxide levels, the biological nature of the process means it's carbon-neutral.

It also means no exploration for oil, and no political struggles associated with importing oil.

The stumbling block is scaling up the process to a commercial level, but John Love from the University says that if the process was scaled up, the bacteria could even use waste products like straw and animal manure to produce the fuel, rather than requiring extra land for feedstock.

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