Biorefineries stimulus –>> Mircobes making Biofuels

It goes without saying that increasing energy costs and environmental concerns have emphasized the need to produce sustainable renewable fuels and chemicals.  New to me, however, is the popularity of microbes as a mechanism to solve our energy needs; I thought many were focusing more on plants. Published in Nature just last week was a study conducted by researchers from the University of California describing a modified Escherichia coli bacterium that can make biodiesel directly from sugars or hemicellulose, a component of plant fiber. The researchers basically amplified and then short-circuited E. coli’s internal machinery for producing large fatty-acid molecules, enabling them to convert precursor molecules directly into fuels and other chemicals. The team then inserted genes from other bacteria to produce enzymes able to break down hemicellulose. In all, the authors report more than a dozen genetic modifications.  The challenge now is going from laboratory flask to commercial-scale fermentation tanks to produce vast quantities of fuel. Institute scientists will continue working with LS9 researchers on that, with hopes of developing an economically viable production system within two years.  However, I am beginning to think that this now may be a much more feasible option due to the new stimulus that Obama initiated.  Essentially, the U.S. Department of energy will be giving grants to select biofuels companies and these can boost investor confidence in those projects and allow companies to attract the full amount of the funding needed to get the project done. Ultimately, I believe the U.S. is finally heading in the right direction in energy production but I think the next step will be a global reform to increase energy production.


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