MIT creates promising biofuel-producing bacteria

MIT scientists have successfully created a new strain of bacteria that expels biofuel into its surroundings instead of keeping it within its body. Previous strains of biofuel-producing bacteria had to be destroyed in order to recover the fuel.

The new bacteria is a modified Ralstonia eutropha. It dwells in soil and produces and stores complex carbon compounds as a type of bioplastic. The strain engineered by MIT scientists releases those carbon compounds as isobutanol, a new drop-in replacement fuel for gasoline.

The MIT research was funded by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E, which is interested in bio-based isobutanol as an alternate fuel. DOE’s BioEnergy Science Center working on a way to modify the cellulose-destroying bacteria Clostridium celluloyticum so that it can convert wood into isobutanol instead.

Microorganisms have been used in recent years to provide cleaner, renewable alternatives to petrochemicals and other toxic substances. Their natural processes have been adapted for use in environmental restoration, fuel cells, and bioplastic production.

One of those uses is in the biofuel industy. Algae biofuel farming shows potential for widespread commercial use. Biofuel made by modified bacteria has the same kind of potential. Both biofuels can lend themselves to urban farming.

Bacterial and algal bioful farms can be set up in derelict sites under the EPA’s brownfields-to-clean energy program. They can also be set at active industrial facilities, where there would be plenty of carbon dioxide to feed them.

The MIT biofuel bacteria currently uses fructose as a carbon source. The scientists are working on getting their new superbug to use carbon dioxide instead. They are also considering agricultural and municipal waste as potential sources of carbon.

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