Scientists in the UK have created a biofuel similar to diesel from genetically modified E. coli bacteria cells.
Researchers at the University of Exeter modified the E. coli bacteria to convert sugar into oil rather than fat, as it would naturally do. The oil is almost identical to diesel and, unlike many biofuels, is compatible with modern engines.
This compatibility is crucial when developing an alternative to fossil fuels, according to professor John Love, lead author of the study. "Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset,” he said. “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.”
So-called “drop-in” fuels work with existing infrastructures and technology – dramatically reducing the costs involved in switching energy sources on a large scale. Most current biofuels must be mixed with petroleum products before they can be used in vehicles.
The project, which was funded by global energy company Shell, is now working to find a way to refine the conversion process to enable fuel production on an industrial scale.
As concerns grow over the world’s limited fossil fuel reserves, scientists are exploring other sources of renewable energy. Algae is one substance showing potential, with the world’s first algae-powered building premiering earlier this month at the International Building Exhibition in Hamburg. For more on biofuel breakthroughs, see Unlocking Algae and Nature Power.