A flashback from New Scientist on 7 August 2010, from the article -- A replacement for crude oil from engineered bacteria
modified bacteria that munch on sugar to produce feedstock for
refineries could bring down the cost of switching to cleaner energy.
biodiesel fuels are produced from crops grown for the purpose or from
waste cooking fat. While they can be fed directly into car and truck
engines, their make-up is somewhat variable. As a result, they cannot be
processed by existing refineries, and so require a separate production
and distribution network.
to produce "drop-in" biofuels whose chemical constituents are so well
defined that they can added into the existing fuel infrastructure at any
point have so far proved prohibitively expensive, says Steve del
Cardayre at biofuel
developer LS9 in San Francisco.
When the [LS9] team
then inserted these genes into a strain of Escherichia coli –; chosen
because it breeds readily in laboratory conditions and so is a good
candidate for industrial-scale processes –; they found that it began
making enzymes that produced alkanes (Science, DOI:
10.1126/science.1187936). "People have looked for these genes for over
20 years," del Cardayre says
"We have a one-step
process to make alkane," says Andreas Schirmer, who led the research at
LS9, and it should work on an industrial scale.
Barker, a bio-energy researcher at the University of Warwick in the UK,
says the work is a step in the right direction. "It provides an
alternative to producing ethanol as an end point for future-generation
biofuels," he says. Alkanes have a higher calorific value than ethanol,
meaning drivers will get improved fuel economy, he adds. The key will be
to make the bacteria as productive when fed on second-generation,
cellulose-based sources such as grasses and plant waste, which do not
compete for land with food crops.
The Renewable Energy Group Inc. acquired the assets of LS9 in around January 2014.