Genetic Engineers Look to Produce Biofuels From Greenhouse Gas

Carbon-based pollution and the fuel economy are two problems that are intimately intertwined. Scientist are currently making headway in research that would provide integrated solutions to both, according to the Newscenter at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Essentially, researchers wish to see if it is possible to harvest industrial CO2 emissions and use them to produce renewable liquid transportation fuels.

Daniel Bednarik

Genetic Engineering

(Photo credit:Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Researchers with the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) wish to take a microbe that is now being used to produce biodegradable plastic, and engineer it into a strain that can produce high-performance biofuel.

Harry Beller, JBEI microbiologist and lead researcher on this project, says that their work has shown that the bacterium Ralsonia eutropha is capable of generating significant amounts of diesel-range methyl ketones, when grown with carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Methyl ketones are naturally occurring compounds used in flavorings and frangrances, but which Beller and his researchers have found to have high diesel ratings. Beller believes that leaves open the possibility of producing carbon-neutral fuels that represent “a less resource-intensive alternative to making these biofuels from cellulosic biomass.”

Beller had led a previous study in which Escherichia coli (E. coli) was genetically engineered to generate methyl ketone compounds from the glucose in cellulosic biomass. This newer study shows that R. eutropha and E. coli, with the same geneticmodifications, produce comparable amountsof ketones.

Current biofuel production focuses on the conversion of glucose to methyl ketones. This method is far more resource intensive than the use of R. eutropha which requires no biomass crop. With continued research in this area, a future of truly green biofuels may be right around the corner.

To read more about this research, check out the original article Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.