Back off with that Lysol ... we may need this for the car!

GTC-SG-150921rAs I’ve no doubt mentioned previously, I’m one of those “link hoarders” who fill up browser tab bars with all sorts of stuff “to get back to” at some later date.

One of my browser windows is mainly used for “parking” stories that I think might be of interest to Green Tech Chicago readers.

I was reviewing what was up there this past weekend and realized that there were three stories talking about different aspects of the same concept – making fuel from bacteria – which, of course suggested a post topic!

While research in using bacteria to produce fuel has been going on for nearly a decade, the number of institutions that are involved is quite large, with teams in Korea, the UK, Finland, and various universities and private companies around the US all looking for a practical solution.

What I found interesting in the three stories I had up in my tab bar was that they were each following a slightly different path (and if you go into these and click the links in them, you’ll find even more research out there). So, here’s what I’m passing along to you now:

Nitrogen-Fed Bacteria Could Power Our Future is the first of two pieces from the IFLScience site, this one dealing with a program from Indiana University where the process of turning yard and agricultural waste – more specifically cellulose and lignin – into ethanol is being streamlined. One of the persistent challenges with the production of biofuels from these wastes is that the bacteria (or yeasts) that are typically used to convert the sugars in the plant materials to ethanol require a considerable amount of nitrogen to grow. This research team has, however, identified and alternate ethanol-producing bacterium, Zymomonas mobilis, which is able to utilize atmospheric nitrogen gas, and is able to perform the ethanol conversion without the addition of other nitrogen sources. The story also notes that cellulosic ethanol not only utilizes waste material, but produces fuel with about 1/6th the “greenhouse impact” of fossil fuels.

Scientists Engineer Bacteria To Produce A Renewable Biofuel is the other IFLScience piece, and features work being done with the “popular” E. coli intestinal bacteria by researchers at the Imperial College London and the University of Turku in Finland to convert materials that would naturally be made into cell membranes to propane gas – a clean-burning fuel that has an established global market.

To do this, they engineered the bacteria to produce three enzymes: a new variant of thioesterase, CAR and aldehyde-deformylating oxygenase (ADO). The first targets a fatty acid called butyric acid and prevents it from entering a pathway that results in its incorporation into membranes. The second converts butyric acid into butyraldehyde, and the third uses this to produce propane.

You Can Turn E.Coli Bacteria into Microscopic Fuel Factories … this one is from “The Daily Good” and takes a look at a number of programs that are getting a gasoline/diesel equivalent out of bacteria. Teams from both Washington University in St. Louis, and Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology are using genetically altered E. coli to produce something that could go directly into the gas tank. Much of this research is based on the work of a private group, LS9, from as far back as 2007. The story also reports that carmaker Audi is about to launch “test production plants” for bacteria-generated fuels … although the reports from Korean researchers indicate that at present they are only able to make a half-gram of gasoline for every litre of sugar fed to the bacteria – so a lot of work on the process needs to be done!

Again, if you click on some of the links in those stories you can follow down some really fascinating “rabbit holes” on research, including a piece from about one group down at Tulane University in New Orleans which has found a Clostridium bacteria (the class of bacteria which includes the one that produces botulism!) variant which works with any green plant material containing cellulose which also means it will happily turn old newspapers into biofuel … in the U.S. alone 323 million tons of {this} material is discarded every year … That’s a lot of free fuel going to waste.

Hey, I found this stuff interesting, and I hope you do too … happy surfing!

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