Study: Bacteria can be harnessed as diesel-producing 'factories'

April 24, 2013 at 6:20 PM
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EXETER, England, April 24 (UPI) -- British bioscientists say they've developed a method to make bacteria -- in this case special strains of E. coli -- produce diesel fuel on demand.

Researchers at the University of Exeter say the technology faces many significant commercialization challenges but the diesel produced by the bacteria is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel, and therefore does not need to be blended with petroleum products as is often needed with biodiesels derived from plant feedstocks.

Bacteria-produced diesel can be used with current supplies in existing infrastructure because engines, pipelines and tankers would not need to be modified, they said.

"Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset," Exeter bioscience Professor John Love said. "Replacing conventional diesel with a carbon neutral biofuel in commercial volumes would be a tremendous step towards meeting our target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

E. coli bacteria naturally turn sugars into fat to build their cell membranes, the researchers said, and synthetic fuel oil molecules can be created by harnessing this natural oil-producing process.

"Global demand for energy is rising and a fuel that is independent of both global oil price fluctuations and political instability is an increasingly attractive prospect," Love said.

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